Picture book biographies are one of my favorite genres. Not only because they tend to feature remarkable people who change the world in one way or another, but because they distill the messiness of life into easily understandable bits. Betty wanted to fly, but people said a girl couldn’t, so Betty proved them wrong. Josephine wanted to dance, but America treated her poorly, so she found a place where she was loved and accepted.
With The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art (Knopf, releasing tomorrow), Chicago-area author Barb Rosenstock tells the story of a young boy who opened his paint box and saw colors differently. Young Vasily Kandinsky could hear colors singing and see vibrant sounds dancing, and he didn’t want to paint the way everyone else was painting at the time. So he listened to his own voice and, over time, became a brilliant force for a whole new form of painting: abstract art.
Beautifully illustrated by Mary GrandPre, best known as the artist for the Harry Potter books, The Noisy Paint Box has already garnered starred reviews from top journals, including this from Kirkus: “A rich, accomplished piece about a pioneer in the art world.” Barb’s other wonderfully detailed books have earned her praise as well: Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, recently named an Orbis recommended book; The Camping Trip that Changed America, illustrated by Mordecai Gerstein; and Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith.
Question: Your picture books cover pioneering stock car racer Louise Smith, a ground-breaking camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt and conservationist John Muir, and Thomas Jefferson’s library. Now, with The Noisy Paint Box, you dive into the life of abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky. Where do your ideas come from? How do you go from “a-ha” moment when something catches your eye to finished manuscript?
Barb Rosenstock: I wish I had a better answer than “my ideas are random” but “my ideas are random.” I wish they weren’t. Something I’ll read or see about a person or event will catch my imagination, and then it’s research time. I’m looking for its importance to kids or to curriculum and also for a focus to build a book around. How it goes to finished manuscript, well, like everyone else, it’s just create, revise, repeat.
Read more of this interview over at Kate Hannigan’s AuthorOf.blogspot.com, where you’ll find conversations with writers of some of the best books for children – from picture book to middle-grade, fiction and non-fiction.