Review: The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock

noisy paint box

The Noisy Paint Box by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary GrandPre

Enter the amazing world of abstract art with this picture book biography of Kandinsky.  Vasya Kandinsky was raised to be a very proper young Russian boy.  Then his Auntie gave him a box of paints and he started to hear colors as sounds.  No one else could hear the sounds, but to Vasya they were a symphony that he could paint.  Vasya grew up and stopped painting.  He still heard the colors around him, but he was going to be a lawyer.  When he attended the opera one evening, Vasya saw the colors emerge from the music and was never quite the same again.  He became a painter and tried to meet everyone’s expectations, but to be happy he had to paint in his own way, an abstract one. 

Rosenstock’s biography is very successful, focusing on Kandinsky as a child and younger man.  She doesn’t speak down to children at all here, instead bringing them up to her level and demonstrating what abstract art is, showing the struggle of an artist trapped in the wrong life, and finally beautifully displaying what a life well-lived looks like.  She celebrates the transformation from lawyer to artist, from conventional to unique.  This book joyfully exposes how we are all different from one another and how those differences can be incredible if allowed to sing.

GrandPre’s art is glorious.  She shows what Kandinsky must have seen when hearing the opera and what he heard when the colors spoke to him.  The music of the paint box and the noises that emerged for him are shown in flourishes of sound, bringing Kandinsky’s synthethesia vividly to the page.  Her art is filled with motion when Kandinsky’s art is being expressed and then dims down to the staid and quiet when he is trying to conform.

Beautiful and choice, this picture book biography is one of the best.  Get this for elementary art classes, museum visits, and young artists.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.