Sonderbooks

Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Noisy Paint Box

The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

by Barb Rosenstock

illustrated by Mary Grandpré


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The Noisy Paint Box

The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art

by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mary Grandpré

Review posted October 13, 2014.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2014. 36 pages.
Starred Review
2015 Caldecott Honor

I love picture book biographies about artists where the illustrator communicates the feeling of the artist’s life and work. Mary Grandpré achieves this in The Noisy Paint Box, managing to do what Vasily Kandinsky was trying to do, and paint feelings.

The words ring. A note at the back explains, “This book is historical fiction. The dialogue is imagined, although the events are true.” As long as Barb Rosenstock was inventing dialogue, she used words that make an impact.

“Look what I made!” shouted Vasya.
“Is it a house?” asked Auntie.
“Is it a flower?” asked Mama.
“What’s it supposed to be?” asked Papa.
“It’s music!” said Vasya, waltzing his painting around the house.

“Calm down!” said Mama.
“Do some math!” said Papa.
“Heavens!” said Auntie. “This boy needs a proper art class.”

Later, when the adult Kadinsky creates abstract art, we see our first reproduction of one of his paintings with text that echoes his family in childhood.

It took a long time for people to understand.

“Is it a house?” “Is it a flower?” “What’s it supposed to be?”

“It’s my art,” Vasya answered. “How does it make you feel?”

In the note at the back, the author also explains that Kandinsky probably had synesthesia, since he described experiencing colors as sounds and sounds as colors throughout his life. Combined with the art of Mary Grandpré, even child readers will get a sense of what that means.