PPBF: The Noisy Paintbox

So I guess Perfect Picture Book Friday has become Perfect Picture Book Saturday. Sorry I’m a little late. Without further ado…


TITLE:  The Noisy Paint Box

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock


PUBLICATION INFO: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014

ISBN: 9780307978486

SOURCE: library


GENRE: historical fiction picture book


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

From the publisher:

“Vasya Kandinsky was a proper little boy: he studied math and history, he practiced the piano, he sat up straight and was perfectly polite. And when his family sent him to art classes, they expected him to paint pretty houses and flowers—like a proper artist.

But as Vasya opened his paint box and began mixing the reds, the yellows, the blues, he heard a strange sound—the swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a symphony! And as he grew older, he continued to hear brilliant colors singing and see vibrant sounds dancing. But was Vasya brave enough to put aside his proper still lifes and portraits and paint . . .music?

THEMES/TOPICS: biography, art

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I seem to be on a Barb Rosenstock roll lately, but she’s one of my all-time favorite historical writers. In this book, she uses onomatopoeia and repeated refrains to keep the story zipping along. GrandPré has done a masterful job of recreating the artist’s world and art.


  • Random House has developed a CCSS-aligned teacher’s guide here.
  • The book itself includes back matter including some of Kandinsky’s paintings and Web sites for further information.
  • Do you have a noisy paint box? Can you paint a picture with no flowers or trees, but only intended only to make you feel?

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!


PPBF: Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

Sorry the blog’s been so quiet, ya’ll. Following the whirlwind of the holidays, I’m now on deadline for two books with my publisher, Rourke Educational Media, and working on a third for a reading program. I took a short break to bring you a book I’ve been wanting to share for a while…

TITLE:  Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock

ILLUSTRATOR: S. D. Schindler

PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62091-446-5

SOURCE: personal library


GENRE: historical fiction picture book


“Before the world knew the famous Doctor Benjamin Franklin, his neighbors knew him as Ben, the sturdy, saucy, smelly son of a soap-maker — the boy who, on sweltering summer days, snuck away from stirring soap and snipping candlewicks in his father’s shop to head straight for the river…”

From the publisher:

“Ben Franklin loved to swim and, at the age of eleven, he was determined to swim like a fish—fins and all! This fascinating and lively account of young Ben’s earliest invention follows the budding scientist’s journey as he tests and retests his swim fins. That first big splash led Ben to even more innovations and inventions. Includes Franklin quotes, a timeline, bibliography, and source notes.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, invention

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I read this one with my six-year-old last night, and he could totally relate to Ben’s passion for swimming. Plus, Ben swims in the buff, which kids find hilarious. (Don’t worry, Schindler keeps Ben modest.) As a parent, I appreciated that Ben’s swim fins and sandals didn’t work out as planned, but he didn’t give up. And just when the six-year-old wanted to know about Ben’s other inventions, I turned the page to find back matter highlighting some of Ben’s contributions.


  • What would you invent: What problems do you see around you? How could you solve them with a new invention? Draw a sketch or write a paragraph describing your ideas.
  • Ready to put your ideas to the test? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has a great video series on science fairs, which includes an overview of the engineering design process similar to Ben’s swim fin efforts.
  • PBS has eight lesson plans to accompany its series about Benjamin Franklin. Learn about inventions, newspapers, and more.

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

…a very good place to start. For a writer, that beginning must be story. It’s taken me a long time — three years to be exact — to recognize the importance of beginning in just the right place.

Honestly, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. What I did know was narrative proved difficult for me, while reporting — writing magazine articles and nonfiction for the school and library market — came easily.

This interview with Marla Frazee, which my critique partner Julie Rowan-Zoch shared with me, began my awakening. Later, I scribbled down a list of books recommended by Tracy Holczer at SCBWI-CenCal, who said everything she needed to write Secret Hum of a Daisy, she learned with her library card. Then, library card in hand and holidays looming, I started studying.

Here’s my list of books, recommended by Tracy and others, that I found helpful enough to buy so far:

On my “to read” list is ART & FEAR (David Bayles), which argues that while the Mozarts and Michaelangelos exists, most art is made by normal, hardworking artists — artists like us.

Happy reading and happy 2015 everyone!