Lily Brown's Paintings
By Angela Johnson, Scholastic
When Lily Brown paints, her world starts to change... trees wear hats and drink tea, people walk upside down, and apples sing all the way home from the store. It's Lily Brown's world, and it's wondrous. A little paint and a lot of love bring imagination to life in this captivating picture book.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Maya Dean
Lily Brown's Paintings deals with the philosophical concepts of reality versus imagination or illusions. The fine lines that might appear to separate these concepts are gray and not easily demarcated in the happenings of this book.
The book opens describing Lily Brown’s "real world" - her house, her parents, her brother, her bedroom, her life. Then, the author writes, "When Lily Brown starts to paint, her world starts to change." This brings us to a topic discussed in the second section of the question set - the real world versus the world of imagination. Though the author never states that when Lily paints, she enters a different world, many philosophers might argue that Lily has created an imaginary world in which she can control the events and make things happen that could never actually happen in real life. They would argue that Lily's seeing "trees that wear hats, drink tea, and bow to her” are all imagined experiences. These imagined experiences may be serving some purpose in her psychological development, like helping her accept the real world as it is, while living out her fantasies in this "dream world" of her paintings.
Exploring the nature and purpose of art is also an important philosophical issue raised by this book. The book states that in Lily Brown’s paintings, “the colors of people, places, and things change with her heart.” Some might argue that Lily uses art as a medium for expressing not just her imagination and creative ingenuities, but also for her feelings and emotional responses to things that occur in life. In the “Purpose of Art” section of the question set, the children are encouraged to discuss the types of things an artist can do with a painting, like selecting different colors to use or different objects to draw, that can allow her to express her emotions through her artwork.
This leads us to the “Nature of Reality” section of the question set: the characteristics of an experience that qualify that experience as real, or as a dream. Some philosophers might argue that whether or not an experience can be considered "real" is determined by one simple factor: can these things really happen in real life? If the answer is no, the experience is imagined; if yes, it is real. Other philosophers argue that the intense sensation one experiences in a real experience differs from the sensation one experiences in a dream or fantasy. This argument, however, is not easily applied to the happenings of this book, for we have no insight into how Lily Brown feels as she “walks around in her paintings.” The book does state that it is Lily alone who experiences the unique things that happen in her dreams, like alligators sitting on lounge chairs and antelopes talking on the phone.
This brings us to our “Nature of Imagination” section of the question set: can the fact that one person experiences something that no one else has ever seen be enough evidence to qualify an experience as real? Or does it require a larger group of people witnessing an event in order for the larger society to consider it a “real" experience?
The world that comes into existence when Lily begins painting might at first glance seem like an illusory or dream world, but Lewis and Johnson selected the illustrations used in the book in order to make it unclear just where the "real world" ends and the "fantasy world" begins. The pages of the book that describe what Lily experiences in her painting world are illustrated by what look like a child's watercolor paintings. Yet, on the pages that are narrating what is going on outside of Lily's painting world, professional illustrations are used. It might seem as though the author is suggesting that what happens outside of Lily's painting world is the objective, real world, while the world that comes alive when Lily paints is a world that is just a dream created by the imagination of a child. The last page of the book, however, demonstrates how the author of Lily Brown's Paintings' intent was to create shades of gray between the objective and illusive worlds. Though Lily Brown has finished painting and is about to go to bed, Lewis and Johnson use a child's painting to illustrate how "it's their [the family's] world again, and it's wondrous." The supposed "real world" is illustrated by a "dream world" child's painting. Children will enjoy embarking on their own journey through her paintings, deciding which they think is the "real" world, and just what it means for an experience to count as "reality."
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
But when Lily Brown paints, her world starts to change.
In Lily Brown's paintings, people walk upside down, and the buildings on streets dance with ariplanes flying above. And it's another world.
Lily paints all that she sees and feels her own way. She puts her world of color and light on anything she can find. It's magical.
In Lily Brown's paintings, the colors of people, places and things change with her heart.