The Girl with the Brown Crayon

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Overview

Once again Vivian Paley takes us into the inquiring minds and the dramatic worlds of young children learning in the kindergarten classroom.

As she enters her final year of teaching, Paley tells in this book a story of farewell and a story of self-discovery--through the thoughts and blossoming spirit of Reeny, a little girl with a fondness for the color brown and an astonishing sense of herself. "This brown girl dancing is me," Reeny announces, as her crayoned figures flit across the classroom walls. Soon enough we are drawn into Reeny's remarkable dance of self-revelation and celebration, and into the literary turn it takes when Reeny discovers a kindred spirit in Leo Lionni--a writer of books and a teller of tales. Led by Reeny, Paley takes us on a tour through the landscape of characters created by Lionni. These characters come to dominate a whole year of discussion and debate, as the children argue the virtues and weaknesses of Lionni's creations and his themes of self-definition and an individual's place in the community.

The Girl with the Brown Crayon tells a simple personal story of a teacher and a child, interweaving the themes of race, identity, gender, and the essential human needs to create and to belong. With characteristic charm and wonder, Paley discovers how the unexplored territory unfolding before her and Reeny comes to mark the very essence of school, a common core of reference, something to ponder deeply and expand on extravagantly.

This simple, personal tale tells a story of self-discovery--through the thoughts and blossoming spirit of Reeny, a little girl with a fondness for the color brown and an astonishing sense of herself. Paley interweaves the themes of race, identity, gender, and the essential human needs to create and to belong. 112 pp.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Sunday Globe

Paley's book is the breathtaking account of a golden time she has carved out in the lives of [her school] children and herself. Essentially, she conducts a high-power kindergarten think tank in which she, the children, and some parents explore 'the artist's role in society, the conditions necessary for thinking, and the influence of music and art on the emotions.' Infected by their teacher's enthusiasm, wisdom, and human warmth, these beautiful children shape their semester of art, dance, song, and applied psychology around 14 picture books by the great writer-illustrator Leo Lionni...[Paley] render[s] tellingly the originality and sensitivity with which her kindergartners explore art and life as they skip from work to work, character to character, and back to their daily lives with persistence, eloquence, and depth...Her book is a reminder for adult readers that our task, at home and abroad, is to ensure that children may flourish with such awareness of their own worth that they can be free, then, to love another.
— Peter F. Neumeyer

Reading Teacher
I was delighted after an initial reading of The Girl With the Brown Crayon and couldn't wait to share it. However, after rereading the text and discussing it as a member of a learning community, I can more fully appreciate why it was awarded Harvard University Press's annual prize for an outstanding publication about education and society.
Young Children
[Paley describes how] she decides to give direction to her curriculum by focusing on the books of one author, Leo Lionni...The result, as recorded in the book, is a long exploration, questioning, and debate among the children and teachers about the characteristics and actions of the characters and important ideas (which become curriculum themes) as the books are read, dramatized, and portrayed in notebooks and posters. Throughout this journey, Paley shares her unique insight into the nature of young children and kindergarten learning as it could be, as it should be.
Book Links

To focus a year's curriculum on a single writer, no matter how acclaimed or popular, was a departure for [Vivian Gussin Paley] and her school. But as anyone can tell from reading The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley's experiment was a resounding success, cultivating among very young children a deep engagement with literature that they were able to share every day.
— Molly McQuade

San Jose Mercury News

Paley [tells how she] and her co-teacher turn a sizable portion of their curriculum over to a study of Lionni stories, and her students blossom with insight...Paley's book is a treasure for anyone who wants to know more about what magic is possible in a classroom where a teacher encourages what Paley calls...a "narrative community."
— Carol Doup Muller

Boston Sunday Globe - Peter F. Neumeyer
Paley's book is the breathtaking account of a golden time she has carved out in the lives of [her school] children and herself. Essentially, she conducts a high-power kindergarten think tank in which she, the children, and some parents explore 'the artist's role in society, the conditions necessary for thinking, and the influence of music and art on the emotions.' Infected by their teacher's enthusiasm, wisdom, and human warmth, these beautiful children shape their semester of art, dance, song, and applied psychology around 14 picture books by the great writer-illustrator Leo Lionni...[Paley] render[s] tellingly the originality and sensitivity with which her kindergartners explore art and life as they skip from work to work, character to character, and back to their daily lives with persistence, eloquence, and depth...Her book is a reminder for adult readers that our task, at home and abroad, is to ensure that children may flourish with such awareness of their own worth that they can be free, then, to love another.
Book Links - Molly McQuade
To focus a year's curriculum on a single writer, no matter how acclaimed or popular, was a departure for [Vivian Gussin Paley] and her school. But as anyone can tell from reading The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley's experiment was a resounding success, cultivating among very young children a deep engagement with literature that they were able to share every day.
San Jose Mercury News - Carol Doup Muller
Paley [tells how she] and her co-teacher turn a sizable portion of their curriculum over to a study of Lionni stories, and her students blossom with insight...Paley's book is a treasure for anyone who wants to know more about what magic is possible in a classroom where a teacher encourages what Paley calls...a "narrative community."
Boston Sunday Globe
Paley's book is the breathtaking account of a golden time she has carved out in the lives of [her school] children and herself. Essentially, she conducts a high-power kindergarten think tank in which she, the children, and some parents explore 'the artist's role in society, the conditions necessary for thinking, and the influence of music and art on the emotions.' Infected by their teacher's enthusiasm, wisdom, and human warmth, these beautiful children shape their semester of art, dance, song, and applied psychology around 14 picture books by the great writer-illustrator Leo Lionni...[Paley] render[s] tellingly the originality and sensitivity with which her kindergartners explore art and life as they skip from work to work, character to character, and back to their daily lives with persistence, eloquence, and depth...Her book is a reminder for adult readers that our task, at home and abroad, is to ensure that children may flourish with such awareness of their own worth that they can be free, then, to love another.
— Peter F. Neumeyer
Book Links
To focus a year's curriculum on a single writer, no matter how acclaimed or popular, was a departure for [Vivian Gussin Paley] and her school. But as anyone can tell from reading The Girl with the Brown Crayon, Paley's experiment was a resounding success, cultivating among very young children a deep engagement with literature that they were able to share every day.
— Molly McQuade
San Jose Mercury News
Paley [tells how she] and her co-teacher turn a sizable portion of their curriculum over to a study of Lionni stories, and her students blossom with insight...Paley's book is a treasure for anyone who wants to know more about what magic is possible in a classroom where a teacher encourages what Paley calls...a "narrative community."
— Carol Doup Muller
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Leo Lionni see review above, is the focus of Paley's final year in her long career as a kindergarten teacher. Paley, the charismatic teacher and author of The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter and You Can't Say You Can't Play is taken on a metaphorical journey of discovery and self-discovery by kindergartners with inquiring minds. Led by Reeny, a five-year-old black girl who is "a natural born innovator," the children and their teacher embark on a year-long study of Lionni, one of the class's favorite authors. Through characters in Lionni's books Mr. McMouse, Frederick, among others the children play out little dramas of gender, inclusion and sharing as the group paint posters and discuss the behaviors of their favorites. Reeny, for example, immediately identifies with Frederick: "That brown mouse seem to be just like me!... Because I'm always usually thinking 'bout colors and words the same like him." Paley's kindergarten is an oasis, blessed with a unique curriculum and a teacher willing to be taught by her students. Paley tries to fit lessons about adult biases into this paradigm as well, but they tend to be strained: e.g. one adult interprets Mr. McMouse's encounter with an unfamiliar reflection in his mirror as "what happens to colored folks who hang out with too many white people. They lose their image." But the classroom is one that any parent or teacher would wish for their own. Mar.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674354425
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 112
  • Sales rank: 253,917
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Vivian Gussin Paley, a former kindergarten teacher, is the winner of a MacArthur Award and of the 1998 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement given by the Before Columbus Foundation.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 16, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Too Simple, and Nothing New

    I was not impressed. I'm kind of disturbed that it took this woman her entire career to discover the things she learned while conducting this experiment. What was she doing the rest of the time she was teaching? Was she simply not paying attention? It took me about one year of working with kids (not even full time) to see this sort of enthusiasm for books, and the way children could use books in their everyday life. I felt it was weak and and way too simple.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2007

    Amazing- inspiring!

    The Girl with the Brown Crayon Vivian Gussin Paley Review by K. Winick-Ford I am inspired and amazed- such a treasure to American literature, Paley shares her numerous years as a kindergarten teacher with her unique insight. She is insightful, being mindful of her students, their needs and the changes our society is facing. Although all her stories are wonderful and easy to read, the girl with the brown crayon connects well-loved stories by a well respected author and how the class connects and adapts and evolves through the days. Too often we read about the short attention span of youngsters and their self-involvement and disconnectedness. Paley revives the soul- she shares authentic stories of her children, seeing the light they bring to our culture. My favorite quote from the book is this, ¿apparently I needed classroom after classroom of young children demanding to be heard before I could identify my own voice and imagine my own questions.¿ Pg. 43 This story, with obvious connections to racial identity is an easy read for all adults. The connections between Leo Lionni¿s books parallel What truly inspires me is how the class, as young as they are, relate to the books and the hidden messages they reveal. The book won several awards and there¿s no doubt to me, well deserved. The main character, Reeny is strong and dominate throughout the book, showing signs of great leadership. The author reveals on her birthday why she is at the school she attends rather than a more local one. The issue of race and leadership is unveiled. It reminded me not only of the racial inequalities we face each day, but also how a child will not respond internally to leadership but will react when opportunity presents itself. The issue of sexual identity is also presented and how children respond to the characters in the stories. The author explains to the children why they were written the way they were and poses an in-depth question as to whether or not they have to be male. Again, the children respond thoughtfully. Never underestimate children. As the book draws to a close, Paley tells how the children respond to emotional crisis in the classroom and in their lives. She also tells how they mature and develop. Their insightful connections to the stories they have heard and how they connect them to their lives is amazing! From the Polish boy back to Reeny, the story comes full circle. The closing is appropriate. Not only is it the end of Paley¿s school year and her teaching career, but she leaves us with the tools we may wish to use- a list of Leo Lionni books, which many must be eager to revisit. In short, this is a fantastic book that you will be a better teacher and a better person having read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2001

    Brown Crayon......Bright Colors :-)

    The Girl with the Brown Crayon is a wonderfully funny and honorable book. What this book brings to the table, is the sence that no matter what age children are they can comprehend stories. Comprehending is not the only part though, children can also apply their own thoughts as in the case with Frederick. What captured me the most about this story is the way adults seem to over look children, and almost over shelter them to the harsh reality of life. We see how a teacher in her last year of teaching has some how transformed from the learned to the learner. No longer is the class a class, but a world in which the children themselves have created to deal with tough moments, as well as the happier times. I would say, if your in the mood for a great little book, that makes you think about the world's problems in a new light, that this is your book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2001

    The Girl with the Brown Crayon

    This story, written by a teacher in her final year of teaching, tells of a Kindergarten class studying the author Leo Lionni. This class of young children makes amazing connections between Lionni's stories and real life, with the issues of friendship, race, and gender apparent throughout the book. The children are constantly aware of labels and stereotypes of other people. Paley, with her innovative teaching strategies, opens the children to a whole new world of ideas. This book is enlightening, humorous, and should be read by anyone who wishes to learn about children and how they think or who just wants to have an enjoyable reading experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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