The Noisy Paint Box:
The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mary Grandpré
2014. Alfred A. Knopf
Vasily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian artist known for his abstract paintings.
This book begins with Kandinsky's school years, during which he receives his first paint box. The paint box begins his journey as an artist and also brings about signs of synesthesia. The paint box follows him as he learns to accept his own unique style.
About the Illustrations
Mary Grandpré, who illustrated the first American editions of the Harry Potter books, is the illustrator of this book, and she does not disappoint. She captures Kandinsky's experiences with synesthesia very well, using soft, dull images for ordinary things, and swirls of color and light when things "speak" to the artist. My favorite picture in the entire book is a page where Kandinsky simply cannot ignore all the colors speaking to him on the streets of Moscow. Among others, the "canary-colored mailbox whistling," and "ivory chorus of snowflakes" call to him, and Grandpré represents these strong appeals to the senses with a page full of color, where specific brush strokes represent each sound Kandinsky hears. Kandinsky himself stands at the center, wearing a hat and glasses, with his eyes closed. With or without the text, this is just a very appealing piece of artwork in its own right. When it comes to portraying Kandinsky's art itself, Grandpré does a great job of conveying the essence of his style without trying too hard to imitate it. Also included in the book are images of four of Kandinsky's original paintings.
In her note, the author calls this book "historical fiction" because the dialogue is all imagined. It's good for kids to realize that not everything Kandinsky says in the book is a direct quote, but I'm still comfortable calling the book non-fiction, as it gives biographical information about the artist, and explains his contributions to the art world. The author's note also includes an explanation of synesthesia, with resources for further study. Disappointingly, the illustrator provides no comment on her experience illustrating the book, the absence of which is deeply felt, since the book is about an artist.
Despite not being a huge fan of abstract art, I really enjoyed this book. It looks much more kid-friendly than the average picture book biography, and it will tie easily into art history lessons. Unlike many other subjects for picture book biographies, this is one kids will want to learn about even if they have never heard of him before, both because synesthesia is such an interesting and uncommon condition, and because they are likely to encounter abstract art in their studies.