Magic Tree House
Junie B. Jones
★ The life of the classical Chinese painter Wu Daozi is imagined as a magical artistic adventure.
Look’s text is brief and impressionistic, conveying with quick brushstrokes the mythical genius of the artist and his own wonder at the miraculous work of his brush. She begins with Wu Daozi as a boy studying calligraphy but discovering that his brush has other plans: “Each day something new and surprising dripped out of Daozi’s brush,” as lively lines turn into trees, a fish, a horse. So’s friendly ink-and-watercolor paintings are a mix of graceful lines and careful detail, conveying a world in motion. The black and white of Wu Daozi’s classical-style paintings as she depicts them come alive in bright colors: A butterfly, a camel, a flying dragon fill with color and flap or step off the wall as Wu Daozi finishes painting them. A seated Buddha smiles in glorious colors as Daozi adds a last touch of his brush. Brush strokes emphasize and echo the liveliness of Wu Daozi’s work in the flying sleeves of his robe and a swirling shock of his black hair. An author’s note gives Wu Daozi’s dates and explains his importance to Chinese art, including the fact that none of his 300 frescoes have survived; a note about the legend that Wu Daozi possibly cheated death by painting himself into paradise follows the last enchanting illustration.
A cheerful introduction not only to Wu Daozi, but to the power of inspiration. (Picture book. 4-9) – Kirkus Reviews
★ Swirling back through the mists of Chinese history, collaborators Look and So bring children the story of Wu Daozi, an artist with magic in his brush. As a boy in the late seventh century, Daozi was taught calligraphy—at least the monks attempted to teach him. But instead of letters, worms and horse tails fall from his brush, and when he takes his art into the city, his flowers and clouds are so full of vivacity and life that people from all over come to admire his work. But what’s this? As Daozi grows older, he’s startled to see the butterflies he draws take flight from the paper. A camel walks away from the wall. His crowds of followers dissipate, perhaps because they don’t believe the art has come to life, but eventually, a new generation brings him to such heights of popularity that the emperor invites Daozi to paint a magnificent mural on a palace wall—one that takes him the rest of his life. The author’s note calls this picture book a reimagined life of the painter who brought spirit and motion to Chinese art. Certainly, Look and So have dipped deep into the well of artistry and creativity to produce a book that captures Daozi’s essence. The richly colored artwork is stunning in both its scope and particulars; inky calligraphy brushstrokes accent people and places. And the words are equally well chosen, such as when the elderly Dazoi is “drenched in the moon’s silver tears.” This combination of talents happily never forgets its audience in an offering as child appealing and whimsical as it is handsome. – Booklist
★ Lenore Look, illus. by Meilo So. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-87001-9
Look (the Alvin Ho series) blends mystical realism and biography to create a magical portrait of one of ancient China’s famous artists, Wu Daozi. As a boy during the T’ang Dynasty in the seventh century, Daozi is unable to conform in calligraphy class. Instead, “His straight lines splintered into trees. His hooks caught fish. His dots burst into eyes.” Later known for his dynamic murals, Daozi paints subjects so realistically they seem to come alive (“Daozi’s birds fluttered away. His horses galloped into the mountains”). The young artist’s cherubic face with big, black eyes and plump, rosy cheeks will pull readers in at the first page; the brisk narrative and vibrant spreads will keep them reading. So’s (Water Sings Blue) breezy ink-and-watercolor illustrations evoke Daozi’s flowing style. In some scenes, her naïve paintings showcase detailed patterns and myriad colors, like the spread of a mural unveiling featuring vivid banners, buildings, musicians, and dancers. Other spreads of Daozi practicing his craft alone employ a more limited color palette. A fine biographical tribute to the enchanting power of art. Ages 4–8. (June) – Publishers Weekly
★ Young Wu Daozi tries to please his calligraphy teacher, but his brush drips out squiggles and twists and dots, his lines turn into trees, his hooks catch fish, and “his dots burst into eyes, then pigs, and monkeys.” Wu Daozi paints on walls in temples and teahouses, and even the great wall surrounding the city. His work becomes known and admired throughout China. One day he paints a butterfly so beautiful and delicate that it appears to be real. When the wind blows, the wing moves, just a little, and the butterfly suddenly flits off. Soon everything he creates either flutters, gallops, or rolls away. No one believes that his paintings come to life, except the children. Then one day, the emperor asks Daozi if he would create a masterpiece on a wall of the palace. Stunning ink, watercolor, and pencil artwork brings to life ancient China and the beautiful children who remained faithful to Daozi. Highly detailed and vibrantly colored, the illustrations render Daozi’s paintings with brilliance. Children will appreciate the imaginative aspect of the text as well as the inspiring story of a boy who follows his dreams. Inviting and appealing, this title serves as a great addition to a unit on ancient China or Chinese Art.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH – School Library Journal