With a contrast between dull colors and vibrant and bright colors, the children’s picture book biography The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock (illustrated by Mary Grandpre; Knopf, 2014) introduces kids to the delightfully unique art of Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky. Abstract art in general might be difficult for a young reader to comprehend (is it really art? they may wonder.). But Rosenstock and Grandpre manage to bring meaning to life as they share Kandinsky’s story. I love both the story and the art in this Caldecott Honor picture book (won in 2015).
The story captures the feelings of Vasya’s childhood: the boredom with fancy dinners and uninteresting studies. It incorporates some repetition, and adds (fictional) dialogue with family and teachers to drive the story forward. The narration is told with action words and descriptions. for example, he was “walzing his painting around the house” as a child. His art included “Snapping cerulean points. Crunching crimson squares. Whispering charcoal lines.” This emphasizes his synesthesia: a condition in which various senses converge. He saw colors as he heard the symphony. The colorful pages sing to him in response. As a result, Kandinsky’s art was a multi-sensory experience.
The design and illustrations of the book emphasize so many aspects of the text and Kandinsky’s story as a whole. Emotions are shown in the the contrasting colors of the illustrations, from mdull blues to swirling colors. The variety of fonts and letter spacing also emphasize the emotion. I loved how the realistic facial expressions (boredom, delight) captured the pre-art child. In contrast, once the colorful paint box is introduced, his eyes reflect the interest and delight. His life seemed to be a contrast: with and without his art, his unique style. That is so well portrayed in the illustrations.
Two pages of end matter share more information about Vasily Kandinsky, along with a few small examples of his work. I loved how this book portrayed Vasily’s developing artistic sense in terms of multiple senses. It gave me more ideas on how I can approach abstract art myself.