“Is it a house?” “Is it a flower?” “What’s it supposed to be?” When an aunt gives Moscow schoolboy Vasily Kandinsky a paint box, no one knows what to make of the wild shapes he creates. He doesn’t just see the colors. He hears them: “blaring crimson... burbling green, clanging orange, and tinkling violet.” Even after he gives up his career teaching law years later and decides to study art, his teachers steer him toward traditional subjects. He resists, and his works become the art world’s first abstract paintings. Rosenstock (Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library) focuses on passages of Kandinsky’s writing that seem to indicate he experienced synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon that blurs the boundaries between the senses, and her prose strikes a balance between lightheartedness and lyricism. GrandPré’s (The Wee Hours) paintings, meanwhile, conjure up an entire epoch, lingering over the candelabras and tasseled drapes of the Kandinskys’ apartment, breathing life into all the characters, and conveying the energy and vitality of the colors Kandinsky hears. Contains an afterword and reproductions of some of Kandinsky’s works. Ages 4–8. Author’s agent: Rosemary Stimola, Stimola Literary Studio. (Feb.)
New York Times, January 29, 2014:
"GrandPré employs muted purples and blues to depict Vasya’s dull childhood world. Once he starts painting, the pages come alive with bright swirls of color that fly around his head like strands of melody…Even those who aren’t inspired to visit a museum will take away the lesson of Kandinsky’s life: Listen to what excites you and follow its call.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, November 11, 2013:
"Rosenstock's prose strikes a balance between lightheartedness and lyricism. GrandPré’s paintings conjure up an entire epoch...breathing life into all the characters."
Starred Review, Booklist, January 1, 2014:
"Richly colored, large acrylic paint and paper collage pictures illustrate the life of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first painters of abstract art...The rich word choice is a delight: pistachio, cobalt, and saffron introduce readers to colors while hissing, blaring, and whispering reveal the sounds of the colors...This is a beautiful blend of colors, music, and life."
Starred Review, Kirkus, December 1, 2013:
“A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world.”
Starred Review, School Library Journal, February 2014:
"The book offers diverse potential for different types of study, whether one is reading for information or for pleasure. Outstanding.”
The Huffington Post, March 20, 2014:
"The fantastic illustrations in this book will speak to the creative child and the story of breaking free from convention and finding your own path will speak to the child who dreams of things not yet seen."
The Horn Book, January/February 2014:
"Concentrating primarily on the artist as a child and young adult, Rosenstock takes known events and embellishes them with dialogue and specific sounds for the colors. GrandPré does a fine job showing color and sound as abstractions while presenting the artist and his surroundings in a more realistic manner."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February 2014:
"The story of a young kid who wants to shake things up will appeal to many junior artists, and the details of Vasya’s sonic joy in color may inspire further artistic exploration...An author’s note gives more details about Kandinsky’s life, and a quartet of Kandinsky paintings are reproduced alongside it."
Gr 1–4—A stirring tribute to a prominent pioneer of abstract art, Paintbox follows the life of Russian-born artist Vasya Kandinsky from his childhood to adulthood, conveying the astounding imagery conjured in the painter's (probably genetic) condition, synesthesia, which caused sensory fields to collide in explosions that enabled him, for example, to hear colors. In this delightful homage, Rosenstock's crisp visual language unites with GrandPré's deeply expressive and whimsical paintings to re-create the intriguing world of art as seen through Kandinsky's distinct lens. The book offers diverse potential for different types of study, whether one is reading for information or for pleasure. Outstanding.—Kathryn Diman, Bass Harbor Memorial Library, Bernard, ME
This impressive biography of Vasily Kandinsky highlights the unusual connection between his art and the music that inspired it. As a young boy in Russia, Vasily--nicknamed Vasya--glumly studies "bookfuls of math, science, and history." His heavy eyelids droop; he sits "stiff and straight" while adults drone on. Then his aunt gives him a paint box, and everything changes. As Vasya mixes one hue with another, he hears the colors making sounds. "Whisper" is set in a faux handwriting type; "HISS" is also set in a different type from the primary text. Vasya listens as "swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up." Rosenstock explains the mixing of Vasya's senses--synesthesia, in contemporary terms--through the shapes he paints: "Crunching crimson squares," "[w]hispering charcoal lines" and "a powerful navy rectangle that vibrated deeply like the lowest cello strings." Using acrylic paint and paper collage, Grandpré emphasizes the blending of two arts by showing Vasya's paintbrush-holding arms aloft as if he were conducting and by letting Vasya's colors waft upward from his palette, making curlicues in the air, with music staffs and notes interwoven. As Vasya grows up, he faces resistance to his nonrepresentational work, including the repeated interrogation, "What's it supposed to be?"--but his magnificent, abstract, sound-inspired paintings won't be repressed. A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world. (author's note, painting reproductions, sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)