The Noisy Paint Box – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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noisyTitle: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art -The Noisy Paint Box

Written by Barb Rosenstock

Illustrated by Mary Grandpré 

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2014

Ages: 5-11

Themes: abstract art, sounds, Kandinsky, historical fiction

First lines:

Vasya Kandinsky spent his days learning to be a proper Russian boy. He studied bookfuls of math, science and history.


Vasya was an obedient little boy in his educated mid 19th century Russian home. He studied the sciences and music and conformed to his family’s and society’s expectations. Even when his grandmother gifted him with a paint box, whose colors Vandinsky not oly saw but heard, he bowed to his family’s and his art class’s expectations of realism in his art. He was to paint flowers and house, NOT the twirling, trilling symphony of color sounds he heard as he mixed his palette. “He brushed a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings.” He could take these expectations only so long, however, while studying law, he attended a Moscow opera, “And Vasya was never quite as proper again.” His noisy paint box could not be silenced! He quit law school and eventually moved to Munich to study with the greatest. Even here tradition tried to thwart him. Vasya was one of the first of his artistic friends to buck the trends and create something entirely new – abstract art. It was all about how the art made you feel.

Why I like this book:

This book tells the story of an artist, an era and courage with colors, music and vivacity.  The text is packed with information but not at all dense as the prose is very poetic, almost dancing across the page like a paintbrush on a fresh canvas. It appears that research from Kandinsky’s writing would seem to indicate he experienced synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon that dulls the separation of the senses. While she doesn’t use the word synesthesia in the text, Rosentock paints the condition through her language choice. The story itself is fascinating and Grandpré does a magnificent job of creating perfect scenes from Tzarist Russia and infusing them with the avant-garde approach of this young painter. One senses/sees the transition as Kandinsky moves from Moscow to his artist’s community in Munich where he feels free to allow his true internal art to make music for the world. This is a fabulous piece of historical fiction in picture book format, informative, colorful and fun. A great addition to so many sorts of lessons.


  • Backmatter includes four paintings by Kandinsky, an author’s note, sources, links to websites on synesthesia and abstract art.
  • Rosentock’s author page includes a book trailer for The Noisy Paint Box
  • Large collections of Kandinsky’s art hang in: The Guggenheim Museum and the MOMA in New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, Musee Nationale d’Art Moderne in Paris, The Stadtische Galerie in Munich, and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with teaching resources and activities, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.


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14 Responses to The Noisy Paint Box – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. This book sounds so interesting. However, the book trailer link doesn’t work. Thanks Joanna for being such a support. Love your new cover art!

    • Joanna says:

      Thanks so much for letting me know about the link, Monica. I have added it directly from Youtube and it should now work!

  2. I love your description of this book, Joanna. Although I’m more of a Monet fan, I appreciate the freedom of expression that is found in art of all types. I will be sure to look for this.

  3. How did I not know about this book? Thanks for pointing us to it. A good friend of mine has a daughter who has synesthesia. It’s such a fascinating condition. I’ll have to tell her about this book!

  4. I stopped collecting books about artists when I stopped tutoring, but I think I may have to add this to my collection. Your review makes me want to read it TODAY! Thanks.

  5. This book sounds fascinating! I wonder if there’s any chance that our library system will have it… dashes off to look… Yes! Well, not right in the city, so I don’t get to read it today, but I’ve requested it. Thanks, Joanna!

  6. Wendy Greenley says:

    When I did Art Goes to School visits I tried to select something by Kandinsky. His unexpected use of color always fascinated me, and the kids seemed to respond to it to. I will have to get this book!

  7. clarbojahn says:

    I Love historical picture books and this one will not be an exception. Thanks for introducing this one to me, Joanna. I can’t wait to read it and it is on my list. 🙂

  8. clarbojahn says:

    I”m not sure my first comment went through. Thanks for selecting this one for PPBF, Joanna! I Love historical picture books and will enjoy looking this one up. 🙂

  9. My paintbox is boring – no music or dancing! Maybe if I put it out beneath a full moon and sprinkle it with fairy dust? Ah – but this book sounds like a really cool story. I’m hoping our library system has it by now.

  10. Great cover! You sold me. Know little about Kandinsky’s work. Love historical fiction. Excellent review.

  11. Rhythm says:

    What a fantastic story! Fascinating! I’ll have to check this one out! Thanks!

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