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The Magic Brush: A Story of Love, Family, and Chinese Characters

Last updated Thursday, May 12, 2011

Author: Kat Yeh
Illustrator: Huy Voun Lee
Date of Publication: 2011
ISBN: 0802721788
Grade Level: 2nd    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: May 2011

Synopsis: From Booklist:

Too old for afternoon naps, Jasmine entertains herself in an empty playroom until her grandfather—or “Agong”—suggests that she is old enough for “magic.” Making Jasmine the hero of his story, Agong tells and illustrates a short fantasy introducing Chinese characters. The two continue to share magical afternoons until Agong’s illness and subsequent death. Saddened but also inspired, Jasmine begins to show her younger brother the words she learned from their grandfather, sharing the magic. Chinese characters are conspicuously embedded in simple, clear illustrations rendered in cut-paper collage and rubber stamp and ink. Most of the images are familiar, but two monkeys introduce the word friends, not an obvious connection. English terms appear in bold lettering, with Chinese characters labeled on page edges. Not so much a story as an invitation to discover the language, this attractive introduction will intrigue curious children and enhance multicultural studies.

Note to readers:
•  The words in the story that are in bold have the corresponding Chinese characters shown in the page margins. Since the book is fairly brief, you can pause throughout the story to show the characters and ask the children if they see the word in the character's drawing (the easiest example of this is "friend").

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Has anyone in your family taught you something special? What was it?
•  Do you do something special with a member of your family?
•  Do you speak any other languages? Can you write in that language?
•  Who knows where China is?

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Where do you think Agong is from?
•  What kind of "magic" did Agong show Jasmine?
•  What's something you know that you can teach to someone else?

Craft ideas:
•  Have the kids copy the Chinese characters from the book. More examples on our blog.
•  Using the characters in the book, have the children write their own magical adventure.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don’t have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!