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Dragon Brush brings a traditional Chinese folktale to life on iOS

by Lisa Caplan

From the creative team that brought Mo Willems’ Penguin to the App Store with Don't Let This Pigeon Run This App! comes a luscious new digital children’s fable, Dragon Brush.

Based on a traditional Chinese folktale, Dragon Brush tells the story of a young rabbit, Bing Wen, who loves to paint. Sadly, his family is too poor to buy him supplies. But, as repayment for an act of kindness to a stranger he is given him a magical dragon brush that brings his paintings to life.

Like any little bunny, he just wants to paint dragons and to fill his town with beauty, but soon the evil emperor discovers his power and it’s up to Bing Wen to outsmart him, triumph over greed, and return safely home with his treasure in paw.

Each of the 29 pages is whimsically illustrated with just enough touch points to engage young readers without distracting them from the story. And, hidden throughout are pots of paint to collect. There is a read-aloud option with pitch-perfect narration, a soothing soundtrack from The National, and the language is well suited to early grade school.

There is a also coloring page, and I confess it I enjoyed it even more than my son who was content to undercover Bing Wen’s dragons hidden in the text. The paints are not just colors, but rather brushes with unique effects, one of which lends itself beautifully to calligraphy. It’s rare to see so much thought go into what is usually an afterthought to round out a kiddie package.

The only thing missing from an otherwise perfect children’s digibook is any sort of help for kids learning to read. A mode where the text is highlighted as it’s read aloud might be helpful for burgeoning readers.

That said, both the story and the illustrations are charming, sometimes deliciously silly, and will appeal to adults almost as much as to children. Perhaps, then, save the extra reading modes for Dora and Disney books and let the best narration for Dragon Brush be a parent’s voice at bedtime.

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