The book I found this week is ⇒

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mary Grandpré. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 2014.

Can you imagine hearing colors around you, then realizing that colors only make sounds for you? Apparently, about 1 in 5,000 people have a genetic condition called synesthesia where one sense triggers another. For Kandinsky, colors became sounds and sounds colors. Over 60 different variations of synesthesia are known. Why it works that way is not known.

I found several other things in the writing and illustrating to note.

The Writing:

  • All threads of the subject follow all the way through the book. Although it begins in Vasya’s childhood, it sticks to the proper and expected way he was raised for his lifetime. When he decides to stop doing the expected (both in his life and in his art), it feels like busting out of a cage. This is done with a minimum of text, yet the feeling is so evident.
  • Fabulous details about colors: snapping cerulean, crunching crimson, and whispering charcoal. It’s a delight to read.
  • It has a pattern that keeps the story line tight. The most obvious one is when his family asks three questions, his art teachers repeat them, and then, finally, the public. This repetition may seem unnecessary to an adult, but for a kid, it allows them to feel some mastery of the words. They’ve heard this before. They know what’s coming. But, it’s still interesting, because the answer is different each time.

The Illustrations:

  • Begins with somber colors that match the drabness depicted in Kandinsky’s early life, yet each page spread adds a bit more color until the very end. The last page spread shows a child looking at one of his pieces of art. The colors are vivid, but not bright or overwhelming.
  • A bird begins caged, flutters inside when Kandinsky first shows his artwork of colors and sounds to others, then flies out the door of the cage once he goes back to painting what he hears, and, finally, is perched on his paint box.
  • There’s a stuffed bunny, limp and sad, in the first illustrations. It disappears as the artist grows. Then, in the last page spread, a stuffed bird is held by the little girl studying Kandinsky’s painting. Instead of sad, its expression is somewhere between happy and content. I love the feeling of hope that the book ends on.

Here it is in Amazon:

Read it. Use it. See what you can learn from it!

There is always hope,


Coming up!

What writers can learn from the book Culture Care by Japanese artist Makoto Fujimura.

The next interview in the series “What’s Your Story?” with a soon-to-be-published writer, Shauna Pilgreen.