The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock; illustrated by Mary Grandpre; Alfred A. Knopf ($17.99) Ages 4 to 8.


The author’s vivid prose and the illustrator’s drolly evocative paintings (Grandpre illustrated the Harry Potter books) combine to marvelous effect in this entertaining and illuminating picture book biography of one of the first painters of abstract art. The detailed illustrations evoke 19th century Russia (in one, young Vasya and his dog both appear to be sliding down the bannister, the boy brandishing a wildly abstract painting over his head as his horrified parents look on). Rosenstock’s writing approaches poetry as she writes of a boy who experienced colors as music and whose wild swirling colors and shapes upset those who thought artists should paint houses and flowers.

Kandinsky was believed to have a condition called synesthesia; the author’s note at the end reports that Kandinsky described hearing a hissing sound as a child when he first mixed colors in the paintbox his aunt gave him.

– Jean Westmoore


The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon; Doubleday (336 pages, $25.95


Jennifer McMahon melds the mystery genre with the supernatural for a psychological thriller that is as scary as it is enthralling.

“The Winter People” relies on the fears that creep into one’s subconscious and stay there, ramping up the terror that creeps just below the surface. While McMahon weaves in standard tenets of supernatural tales, she makes every twist fresh – and frightening – while exploring the very real fear of losing a loved one.

Every small town has its ghost story that stems from an abandoned house that children avoid, a dark wood into which no one ventures or an unsolved murder.

West Hall, Vt., has all that and more, in a tale that dates back to 1908 when Sara Harrison Shea and her husband, Martin, lived on an unproductive farm outside of town. The bright spot in their lives is their daughter Gertie. When Gertie is found dead in an abandoned well, Sara is convinced that she can bring her child back to life.

That story of Sara and her family resonates in the present day with 19-year-old Ruthie Washburne, who now lives in Sara’s former house. When Ruthie’s mother disappears, the teenager looks into West Hall’s dark past that includes a string of disappearances and unexplained happenings.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel


The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert; Henry Holt, 319 pages ($28)


Elizabeth Kolbert’s revelatory new book, “The Sixth Extinction,” about the rapid and radical changes man is wreaking on the Earth, is one of those works of explanatory journalism that achieves the highest and best use of the form.

Kolbert, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has gone all over the world to walk with, talk with and debrief a cadre of eminent scientists who are tracking humanity’s transformation of our global home. Kolbert builds an effective case that the pace of change is proceeding at a rate that imperils all species, including, eventually, Homo sapiens.

In a lucid and understated style, Kolbert documents the collapse of amphibian populations and of coral reefs. She writes about the mass die-off of millions of bats in the Northeast, most likely done in by a fungus transported around the world by globalization’s component parts, travel and trade.

Kolbert does not chide or condemn. She chronicles man’s indifference to other life on the planet, but the most disturbing aspect of “The Sixth Extinction” is that most of us are complicit in these die-offs by heedless living — driving cars, farming cleared land, buying goods that require overseas shipping. And failing to contain a burgeoning human population.

– Mary Ann Gwinn, Seattle Times