This is a superb book, subtle, sophisticated, smart but also simply a good story. I love reading it for my children and take it out over and over again. It's a pleasure to read because the rhythm of the verse is so well worked out, it scans perfectly, and builds and falls delightfully to make the job of the reader very easy.
It tells the story of a dreamy girl, Shen, who is given a magic paintbrush by which drawn objects become real. She is enjoined to use it only for the poor, which she does to help those in need of simple objects to improve their lives. The Emperor hears about the magic and commands Shen to use the brush to make him richer but Shen refuses and is locked up for her insolence. She schemes to break out and succeeds, only to have to confront the Emperor in a more absolute sense in the climax of the story.
In a rare combination of "you can't have one without the other" kind, the illustrations and writing knit divinely together in a perfect harmony - giving the book the feel of a "given", a classic. Joel Stewart has clearly worked long and hard on an overall style, on each page and on each element in each visual, and the result is just delicious to behold. There seems to me to be an intentional reference to the painting process that is such a big part of Shen's story, a sense in some of the pictures that like Shen's they themselves are about to leap off the page and become real.
Julia Donaldson's writing is (as always) above reproach, but here she heads for somewhere very different from the Gruffalo and related stories, somewhere more serious and more delicate, and she gets there without the slightest hitch, seemingly effortlessly.
iiiiiiii = 8 thumbs up from us. Buy it here >>>>