(From The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen) by Lloyd Alexander)

Lesson objective

Students will make connections with the theme of the way artists can create new worlds out of their own imagination by reading The Tale of the Tiger's Paintbrush by Lloyd Alexander. Students will learn about a character by paying attention to the way the character reacts to other characters and to situations in the story.

Materials and Resources

Copies of the excerpt The Tale of the Tiger's Paintbrush from the novel The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander (Excerpt is used in sixth grade text book The Literacy Place Volume 2 by Scholastic)

Semantic Map transparency

Vocabulary list of words used in the story

What a Character! sheet.

Vocabulary crossword puzzle A Puzzling Picture (optional)


1. To build background for the story, use the following questions to begin a discussion of artists and their work.
  • What do you think is the most challenging part of the artist's craft?
  • Artists can paint in a variety of styles. Why might an artist choose to paint in an unrealistic fashion?
  • How does an artist come up with ideas for objects to paint?
  • Do you think imagination plays an important role in an artist's ability to create? Why or why not?
2. Invite students to brainstorm words that an author would use when writing about the art of painting. Write the students' responses on the Semantic Map transparency. Students should state into which category their words fit.

3. Review the vocabulary words from the word list. Ask students to decide which category the concept words fit into on the Semantic Map transparency. List them on the transparency.

4. Inform students that as they read, they may find unfamiliar terms that describe artistic landscapes, such as glens, vista, and garden pavilions. Have them record these and any other interesting words in the Personal Word List section of their vocabulary list.

5. Before beginning the story, inform students about the author, Lloyd Alexander.
  • Lloyd Alexander is the winner of the Newberry Award for The High King and the National Book Award for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian. Alexander worked as a cartoonist, advertising writer, and editor before his first book about his own experiences as a struggling writer was published in 1955.

    Many of his more than 25 books for young readers are set in enchanted fantasy worlds. However, they are populated with characters who not only act, think, and feel like real people, but who also struggle with realistic problems. Alexander sees fantasy as a way to understand reality more deeply.
6. Direct students to preview the selection by skimming the text and looking at the illustrations. Explain that The Tale of the Tiger's Paintbrush is a story from Lloyd Alexander's fantasy novel The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen. In this novel a young prince volunteers to search for the legendary court of T'ien- kuo in China, and a mysterious man chooses six gifts for him to take as homage to the court: a saddle, a sword, a bowl, a kite, and a paint box. After a series of exciting adventures, Jen and the characters he meets discover the real meaning behind each of these humble gifts.

7. As students are looking at the illustrations, ask them:
  • The Tale of the Tiger's Paintbrush is a fantasy story. What examples can you find by looking at the illustrations to support this?

  • What do you think the title means? Why would a tiger have a paintbrush?

  • Look at the first illustration. Look at the size of the main character, Chen-cho and the tiger as compared to the houses and the mountains in the background. What do you think their relative sizes say about their importance to the story?

  • Based on the illustration, do you think Chen-cho and the tiger will be friends in the story? Explain your answer.
8. After looking at the illustrations and discussing them, inform students that the way an illustrator arranges the characters on the page, and the size of each figure, can reveal a great deal about their importance in the story, and their relationship with one another.

9. Read the first paragraph of the story. Ask the students:
  • Chen-cho occasionally skips meals to avoid selling his paintings, and sometimes gives paintings away to those who admire them, but can't afford to but them. What do you think this says about his character?
1O. Based on the description in the first paragraph, ask students to predict what the painter might do with his new gift.

11. Continue with guided reading of the story, stopping at appropriate points to clarify meaning, discuss the elements of the story, or allow students to make predictions. The story will probably take more than one class period to complete, especially if it is read aloud with guided reading using the following suggested discussion questions:
  • Chen-cho has received three artist's tools as gifts: a stick of black ink, an ink stone, and an unusual paintbrush. Do you think these tools might turn out to be special in any way? Why?
  • Chen-cho is amazed at how the stick of ink never seems to wear out. From what you know about Chen-cho, how might this affect his way of life?
12. Chen-cho's stick of ink is not the color he thought it was. Explain to the students that the Chinese have used black ink for brush or pen-and-ink drawings since about 2600B.C. The ink, made from berries, bark, linseed oil, and ashes, was ground and mixed into a paste, formed into a stick or cake, and then allowed to dry. The dried ink would be mixed with water when the artist was ready to use it.

13. Continue with the guided reading with discussion questions:
  • Chen-cho is delighted with his new brush and cannot wait to go down to the stream and paint. How does this confirm what the author told you about Chen-cho at the beginning of the story? What do these actions reveal about his character?

  • Chen-cho's paint stick produces any color that the artist imagines, and the brush seems to have a mind of its own. How does this information compare to the predictions you made about the paint set earlier?

  • How is the painting Chen-cho creates on the snowy morning similar to others he has done? How is this painting different?

  • Chen-cho cannot stop staring at his latest painting and finally admits that he's astonished by it. What about this painting do you think causes him to feel this way?

  • Reread the description of Chen-cho's landscape painting on this page. Which details of the painting does the author describe? How do the details help you to visualize Chen-cho's painting?

  • When Chen-cho realizes that he can step into his painting, what adventures do you think he will have? Will he be able to get back out again?

  • Chen-cho is not sure what he will discover as he ventures beyond the fields and forests and across the valleys of his landscape. What do you think he will find?

  • What kind of mood does the author create through Chen-cho, and his reaction to all the amazing things that are happening to him?

  • How might the author change the story to create a scary mood?

  • When the setting of the story changes from the realistic villages and towns of China to the landscape of Chen-cho's imagination, how does this change affect the character and plot development? (Ask students to compare such things as who he meets and what he sees in the realistic setting and in the imaginary setting.)

  • Lao-hu, the tiger, says that Chen-cho must have been expecting him, whether Chen-cho knew it or not. Otherwise, Lao-hu would not be in the painting. What do you think he means by this statement?

  • Think about Lao-hu's interaction with. Chen-cho. How would you describe the tiger's character?

  • If you were in Chen-cho's place, would you have gone into the painting? Why or why not?

  • Chen-cho's landscape painting holds the magical tiger Lao-hu; what does Chen-cho's refusal to sell the painting for any price tell you about the artist's character?
14.Chen-cho creates worlds within worlds when he steps inside the landscape he has imagined and paints scenes that stretch beyond the limits of the frame. At this moment, the author seems to be holding a mirror up to the creative process. Ask students:
  • Why do you think Chen-cho would want to paint inside his own painting?

  • How do Chen-cho's activities inside and outside the painting compare? What can you learn from this?
15. After reading the story redirect the students' attention to the section that includes the quote discussed in lesson 1.
  • "We see with the eyes in our head, but see clearer with eyes of the heart. Some see beauty, some see ugliness. In both cases, what you see is a reflection of their own nature.
Ask students to consider how this quotation relates to how Chen-cho uses his painting to share his vision of worlds around him-both the real world and the imaginary landscape.

16. After reading and discussing the story, have students complete the What a Character! sheet. (This could be done for homework.)

17. To reinforce the concept vocabulary words you may wish to have students complete the optional vocabulary crossword sheet A Puzzling Picture.