Picture Book Plays, presented by Julia Donaldson

The Magic Paintbrush

Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Joel Stewart

This is a rhyming version of the traditional Chinese story in which a child (in this case a girl called Shen) is given a magic paintbrush which will bring to life everything that she paints – provided she only paints things for the poor and needy. When the greedy Emperor hears of the magic brush he demands that Shen paint him a tree of golden coins, and when she refuses he flings her into prison. She escapes by painting a horse and a key, but the Emperor and his men pursue her back to her village. Finally Shen outwits him by starting to paint a dragon, who will become real and ‘ready for a meal’ if she finishes him off. The Emperor bellows, ‘No,’ and gallops away, leaving the happy villagers to revel and feast.


  • Narrator(s)
  • Shen
  • Man on rock (who gives her the brush)
  • Emperor
  • Emperor’s followers (any number)
  • Village boy
  • Village girl
  • Village man
  • Village woman
  • Other villagers (any number)

Props and Costumes

  • A paintbrush and ink (or disguise a thick marker pen as a paintbrush)
  • A flip chart with a chair behind it to conceal the items which become real
  • A chair or block for the rock
  • A wok or other cooking pot
  • A fan
  • At least three other items which ‘become real’ once painted, e.g. chopsticks, a lantern, a platter
  • A length of light blue material for the river
  • Cardboard Chinese hats for Shen, the man on the rock and the villagers
  • Red neckerchiefs for the Emperor’s followers
  • A costume for the Emperor (e.g. a cloak and hat)
  • (optional) Two hobby horses for the chase scene (but these could be mimed)
  • (optional) A key (which could also be mimed)

Optional sound effects

At the end of the story Shen paints ‘drums and flutes’. These can just be mimed, but alternatively you might like to create some music for the final feast scene.


Talk about what people with no money might eat (including fish and sea creatures).

Get the whole class to practise reciting the group lines with the appropriate expressions: bossy when they order Shen to catch fish; hungry when they ask what food she has brought home; excited when her paintings come to life; exultant when she escapes from prison.

Contributed by Julia Donaldson.


The Magic Paintbrush

The Magic Paintbrush

Watch a film of a class performing The Magic Paintbrush with Julia Donaldson

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Picture Book Plays, presented by Julia Donaldson
Printed from www.picturebookplays.co.uk