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The Girl with the Brown Crayon

The Girl with the Brown Crayon

Vivian Gussin Paley

ISBN 9780674354425

Publication date: 09/15/1998

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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.


  • 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, Boston Sunday Globe


  • Vivian Gussin Paley (1929–2019), a longtime classroom teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, was a MacArthur Fellow and winner of the 1998 American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Book Details

  • 112 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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