Tye May and the Magic Brush

by Molly Bang

Molly Bang's Tye May and the Magic Brush

Book review by Tamara Splingaerd

Ages 6-9

Beautifully adapted Chinese folktale

I’m always the one rallying for the underdog at sporting events. I cheer when I witness a child teaching adults how to be nice to each other, and I’m an especially pathetic blubbering mess when I hear the stories of people overcoming extraordinary odds to achieve the impossible.

Yes, I’m an idealist, which most commonly surfaces when I’m picking out children’s books. Fables, folktales, fairy tales all, I can’t get enough.

In this frustrating world of varying Grays it’s comforting to dabble in the good ol’ Black and White. Molly Garrett Bang’s adaptation of a popular Chinese folk legend is the ultimate in Black and White - Good versus Greed.

Tye May is a poor orphan girl who lived in a time when, “Many years ago a cruel and greedy emperor ruled over China.” With an overwhelming desire to paint and no brush, she hones her skills with a stick in the sand. One night she is visited by an old woman with a magic brush. “Use it carefully,” the woman tells her.

The talented Tye May soon realizes that everything she paints comes to life, which attracts the attention of her greedy landlord. Tye May must paint her way to safety after the maniac sends a band of horsemen to kill the girl.

from Tye May and the Magic Brush, alternate cover

After that encounter, she tries to be careful when painting, leaving pictures uncompleted so they won’t come to life. But one day she accidentally drips eyes onto a crane which, “lifted its wings, and flew off over the marketplace.”

The Emperor is informed and brings Tye May to his court to conjure a dragon and a firebird. “Tye May knew that this Emperor was greedy and cruel to the poor. She hated him.” She paints a toad and a rooster, which leave droppings all over the palace.

Eventually Tye May paints an ocean and a boat for the evil emperor and his court, which sails off into a storm and is forever marooned on a distant isle where the greedy royals, “had to work hard every day, and were poor all the rest of their lives.” Cut-and-dried justice for the bad guys, yay!

The story of Tye May
and her magic brush
was told throughout the land.
But what became of her?
No one knows for certain.
Some say that she returned
to the village where she was born.
Others say
she still walks from place to place,
and paints for the poor
wherever she goes.

Tye May is rich without gold because she is kind and clever. I love it.

Delicately detailed pencil/paint illustrations pair with elegant storytelling to make a perfect beginning chapter book. Danger, fortune, adventure, magic, adversity and Good triumphing over Evil is just the sort of bedtime story we like to snuggle up with at my house. Introduce your little artists and readers to Tye May and the Magic Brush and I promise they’ll be reading it for years to come, not to mention trying to paint that miniature pony into existence…

More children's books set in faraway times and places.

Read more of Tamara's reviews.

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