The Magic Paintbrush

Reviewed: June 20, 2005
By: Robin Muller
Publisher: Scholastic
32 pages, $8.99

Young Nib was a street child, a waif with a big dream, He wanted to become an artist. Poor as he was, all he could do was sketch on pieces of cast-off paper with bits of charcoal that fell from the charcoal burner's wagon. Even so, it was clear he had a natural talent.

He also had a big heart and a quick wit, and when he heard some ruffians beating up an old man one night, he was clever enough toe scare them off so that he and the other street urchins could help the old fellow. He had no way of knowing that this would be a turning point in his life.

The old man was a mystic and a calligrapher, and his gift to Nib was a brush which "has been used to adorn the Words of Life, and the power of life is in its touch."

The old man's home vanished as soon as Nib left it, and he found that now whatever he painted came to life, and that he could paint anything that he could see.

Gifts can become curses, and Nib soon finds himself a captive of the greedy ruler of the city, forced to paint him trinkets and jewels. Using his wits and his brush, he escapes, and finds that he can make a living with his art so long as he never quite finishes a piece of work.

One day, however, he goes back to see hiss friends, and finds that he must learn how to paint with his heart as well as with his eyes if he is to save Sara, the watercress girl, who has has been persecuted along with Nib's other friends by the King's agents, who are trying to find him.

Once again, Nib has to use his wits and his abilities to save himself and others, and do the country itself a big favour. It meant a big sacrifice on his part, but he was up to the challenge because, as he told Sara when it was all over, "The best picture are the ones you make with your heart."

Robin Muller is a storyteller as well as an illustrator, and this book shows that delightful marriage of words and images which makes up a good tale. While this is a children's book, the story is not simple and works just as a short story on its own. Muller's illustrations set the scene and show what Nib can do. The full page paintings are rich in scope and detail and fit beautifully with the story.

This is a new paperback edition of a book that first appeared some 15 years ago. I can't recall seeing it before, but it was a delight this time.