THE GIRL WITH THE BROWN CRAYON by Vivian Gussin Paley

THE GIRL WITH THE BROWN CRAYON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A beautifully realized, deceptively simple classroom memoir from a longtime kindergarten teacher and author (Boys and Girls, 1984, etc.). Paley begins the narrative of her final year of teaching by focusing on Reeny, a self-assured, thoughtful, and creative black five-year-old girl in a class that's mostly Caucasian and Asian. Reeny is a wonderful character, but it is her identification with another character, Frederick the mouse in a Leo Lionni children's book, that is the catalyst for a truly remarkable classroom experience. Reeny becomes entranced with both Frederick and Lionni, seeing her own need to express herself reflected in the story of Frederick, the poet mouse. Because of her infectious enthusiasm, and Paley's own strong identification with another Lionni character, Tico, the bird with the golden wings, Paley decides to embark on a yearlong Lionni project. The class reads all of his books, discusses them, acts them out, and does art projects centered on them. Disproving the general opinion that kindergartners are unable to focus on a lengthy, ongoing project, these children show an amazing aptitude for referring back to previous discussions, understanding metaphor, relating their reading to the world around them, and using the information they glean in creative and unusual ways. Their discussions cover everything from race and friendship to gender and the artistic personality, and they are able to appreciate the Lionni titles with a maturity that is sometimes startling. Reeny leads the pack in this, especially in her astute reading of Paley herself and Paley's ambivalent identification with Tico, who is despised by his friends because of his golden wings. The reader closes the book with the hope that Paley will, with Reeny's help and her own newfound self-awareness, overcome her ambivalence about standing out and continue to write superb books like this one.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-35439-7
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997