Wu Daozi is being taught the high art of calligraphy by the monks of Chang’an, China.
The monks explain to him that, “Calligraphy is the highest of the arts,” and that, “it reveals your character.”
But try as he might, Wu can’t seem to copy the examples of his teachers. His attempts at lettering transform into worms, then fishes, then horses.
As if his brush has a mind of its own, Wu’s strokes gallop and glide across the page creating wonderful, vibrant images. Wu cheers, “I love calligraphy!”
His teacher responds, “That is not calligraphy.” And so Wu finds himself outside the monastery walls.
But he continues his artwork.
Soon a crowd of admirers gathers. They bring gifts and food to lay at his feet, which he takes to the monastery to share with the poor. Soon Wu’s artwork becomes so lifelike that it literally flies off the canvas.
Eventually, the emperor summons Wu to paint a mural on the palace. Upon completion, a large crowd stands in awe as Wu silently and mysteriously walks into his own mural and disappears.
So goes the myth behind real life artist Wu Daozi who lived from 689-759 during the T’ang dynsasy. Lenore Look paints a poetic vision of China’s most famous artist.
Her descriptions of Wu’s inability to please his teacher will resonate with children trying to master so many of life’s tasks that seem so easy to adults.
Her portrayal of his triumphs will encourage children to persist in their efforts. And her account of Wu’s paintings magically coming to life will inspire children to pursue the limits of their own imagination.
Meilo So was tasked with the difficult job of illustrating a story about China’s greatest illustrator. She does a wonderful job of bringing Wu to life with her warm, endearing watercolors.
Her artwork perfectly ebbs and flows with the unfolding of Wu’s story. She starts off with grays, browns and tans while Wu is learning inside the monastery. She expands her palette to include bright golds, reds, oranges, and greens as Wu’s art expands throughout the town.
She brings the story full circle by casting Wu’s palace masterpiece in subdued, monochromatic shades of blue, which he then steps into.
With Brush of the Gods, Lenore Look has succeeded in creating not just a great biography for children; she has succeeded in creating an inspiring story for the artist within all of us. She reminds us that if we are willing to follow our hearts, we can create art that is filled with life and create a life that is vibrant as art. We just need to remember to live like Wu Daozi, “with one eye wide open, the other in a dream.”
Read more book reviews by Brian Rock, a children’s writer, award winning songwriter and blogger for JenningsWire.