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The Noisy Paintbox speaks.

Taking on from our first book, ISH by Peter H. Reynolds which I chose to help my students see that art comes from what we feel...feelings, thoughts and ideas we may want to express.

That there are many different ways to express those feelings.

Sometimes people may not understand our form of expression but that should not stop us from doing so in our own unique ways.

This picture book biography written by Barb Rosenstock celebrates the creativity of Vasily Kandinsky, one of the first painters of abstract art.

The illustrations by Mary Grandpre are stunningly grand...not surprisingly this book has a Caldecott Honour medal.

Although I was excited to use this book, I was also a little skeptical. I didn’t really understand abstract art myself and I hemmed and hawed a bit, wondering what the children would make of it.

I don’t know why I was worried because children prove again and again how open and unbiased they are.

To begin with, I asked the children to make predictions about the book by looking at the cover.

With every group I got varied responses.

“ It's about a boy who loves to do art.”

“ The paint box takes him to a magical world.”

“ The paintbox is noisy because the hinges are not oiled.”

“ A magical paintbox.”

“ A box that makes irritating noises in the night.”

“The box speaks to him and gives him ideas.”

The responses were varied and imaginative.

As we started the book we also looked at where it was set and a few children shared a few facts that they knew about Russia.

The story takes us through Vasya’s growing up years when his Aunt gives him a paint box. The children were intrigued by the wooden paint box as opposed to the plastic ones of they were prompted to figure out when this story was set by looking at the clothes. Some of the younger children felt that it was set “in the times of kings and queens” and they weren’t wrong!!!

Vasya could actually hear sounds from the an orchestra tuning up and he painted to the sound of the colours. It is believed that he had a rare condition called 'synesthesia', where one sense triggers a different this case, he could hear colours and see music notes as colours.

The first painting of Vasya’s prompted many responses from the children.

Words like clumsy, cool, free, beautiful, ish (connecting this to last weeks read), balloon, colourful, sun, vibrant, messy, crealive, mushroom, amazing, shapes, outside, peaceful and a host of other words.

The story line goes on to when he was sent to art class to learn properly.

As he grew up, he concentrated on his work as a lawyer, and his paint box was set aside, but an opera performance brought alive his paintbox alive...prompting him to give up his job and move to Munich to learn from some of the great teachers. But here too, the teachers wanted him to paint conventionally. Unhappy with the kind of work that was appreciated, Kandinsky took the bold step of showing the world the paintings that roared from his noisy paintbox, being one of the first artists to create what we now know as ‘abstract art.’

I was surprised by how open the children were to the images of Kandinsky's art...absolutely no biases or block, just freely interpreting it in their own way.

At the last painting, I asked them to spend a while just looking at it, absorbing it, feeling it.

“How does it make you feel?”, I asked.

The words flowed…

Imaginative Creative magical Happy confused inspired crazy sleepy amazed Bleh grumpy pleasant free silly vibrant emotional bright strange burning cheerful wonder excited

Like I went into a time machine and ended up in a weird place

Can opener




There were many new words to explore, but I chose to focus on the music related words.


Orchestra (talking about the different musical instruments of an orchestra)


Opera (older children connected with Madame Castafiore from Tin Tin)

We ended the session by listening to an orchestral version of ‘The Baby Elephant Walk”. I chose this particular piece of music because it was a piece I thought world appeal to the age group and it was the happiest one from amongst a few other pieces I looked at.

The children were asked to keep crayons/sketch pens and/or paints and an A4 sheet or drawing book ready. They were briefed to feel the music and draw whatever they wanted to.

The children enjoyed this experience and while some still drew traditional sceneries or other ‘typical’ themes, I hope this experience has planted a little seed to express what they feel, freely.

“ I felt I was in the garden listening to the grass grow.”

“ Felt like a dog running free.”

“ I felt like I was walking towards a treasure chest.”

“ I felt like dancing.”

“ Some parts felt happy, so I used happy colours. Some parts were sad, so I used cool colours.”

“ At the sprinkly sounds, I drew stars.”

"The music made my ears burst and there was a choo choo train in it, with its smoke going to the sky."

"I felt like I was eating a very long noodle."

There were so many diverse responses to this activity, but no matter what the seemed to make perfect sense to the others. We laughed and appreciated how our imaginations are so unique.

This was a wonderful read and I sensed from the children's responses that it touched them too.

Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.

Vasily Kandinsky.


SEL Competencies:

Self Awareness (Recognise strengths, Self-efficacy)

Self Management (Initiative and Agency, Organisational skills, self-motivation)

Social Awareness (Perspective taking,)


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