I am trying to remember the name of children's book that featured a protagonist who came across a magic paint brush.

This paint brush was used as part of the storytelling in that the character would paint on the pages of the book to the boon of themselves or the detriment of the antagonists. I believe the brush was gifted to them by a "wise elder" type.

Things I know/remember:

  • Read when I was a child, mid 1980's but probably published earlier (early 70's maybe or even late 60's)
  • Was in color
  • Cover showed the paint brush being used in some way
  • Characters were Asian or of Asian descent (maybe Japanese)
  • Written in English but authors were not

Based on the current answers I know that the story is The Magic Brush that has been adapted several times. However, looking at the adaptation list on Wikipedia, none of them match the specific artwork I remember...

  • ... The version of this that I read has it turn out that the paintbrush isn't magic, but the artist. Commented May 9, 2020 at 0:10

4 Answers 4


Based on you remembering the character being Japanese, I'm going to suggest Ma Lien and the Magic Brush by Hisako Kimishima.

Front cover of *Ma Lien and the Magic Brush*

While this version is of Japanese origin, it orginated first in China as Ma Liang and it was a boy. In the original tale as it was first handed down decades, nay centry or more ago, Ma liang came froma a poor family and the paint brush brought wealth and comfort. in this Japanese version This book tells of a little Chinese boy who does not appreciate what he has and wants more and more and more. It is a great book that can be used to teach what happens when you wish for something without realizing how it can impact your life or how greedy you may be becoming. The art is especially important in this book because it coincides with the story line very well. The little boy has a magic paint brush and the art is done so that it appears to be coming directly from his brush

It's still a Chinese character, but the author and the artwork are Japanese.

Found with Japanese "The Magic Brush" on Google.

  • Also you Google is either better than mine or go through more than the first page. When I searched before asking here it was on page three (I went back after I saw the search terms you used) for me by using "Japanese magic paintbrush" which maybe i should have looked past the first page but it was just filled with the more common title of Liang.
    – Skooba
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 20:32

Could be Tye May and the Magic Brush from 1980.

book excerpt

There are several books of this vein all based on The Magic Brush stop motion animated films from the 1950s.

  • This is the correct story, but not the correct adaptation. I am going to go through that list of adaptations on the wiki link you have provided.
    – Skooba
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:07
  • It is none of those that wikipedia has listed as adaptations.
    – Skooba
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:12
  • Possibly of use to you, mollybang.com/Pages/tyemay.html has Molly Bang discussing her adaptation of the book.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:23

I found another adaptation from the same timeframe that fits your question.

Fran Hunio's The Magic Paintbrush and covers the same folktale, Liang receiving a magic paintbrush and using it to paint living things.

Front and back cover of *The Magic Paintbrush* First page of the book Page showing Liang bringing a bird to life

  • This is definitely the right story, just not the right adaption. I want to say the one I had was a Japanese child.
    – Skooba
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 15:05
  • Wonderful things always seem to happen to 'poor' boys...
    – PatrickT
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 10:13
  • 1
    @PatrickT: "Why are you so sad about about poor? You get all kinds of magical stuff. Me, I just have money."
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 9, 2020 at 14:40

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush (1988) by Demi

Front cover of *Liang and the Magic Paintbrush*

Summary from here

When a poor boy in China receives a magical paintbrush, everything he paints turns to life. But the wicked emperor wants to capture the boy when he hears the news. The story will excite readers as the ruler gets his just reward when the boy creates a masterpiece that spells his doom.

Today I learned that Google Books lets you search by publication date and title. I searched for books from 1970 to 1989 with magic paintbrush in their title or keywords.

It looks like it's based on the 1955 Chinese stop motion film that I posted as an answer here although there are many other adaptations.

  • This seems like the right story, but the artwork doesn't match. Based on the adaptation of your answer part it seems it is possible this might be an old Chinese proverb/legend that has been adapted several times?
    – Skooba
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 14:39
  • @Skooba: Interestingly enough, the film seems to be the origin. But I did find another adaptation.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 14:57

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