Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review, Kandinsky & Synesthesia

Kandinsky is one of my favorite artists. I love all of the colors and shapes and lines in his work. Just recently, in grad school, I learned that he could hear colors, something that is called synesthesia

Synesthesia is when one sense triggers another. This enhanced "5th sense" can manifest in different ways: some people see colors when they see numbers, others hear colors or taste a certain flavor when experiencing everyday noises or music. Just about any possible combination of the senses is possible. Many famous musicians and artists are synesthetes, Lady Gaga, Jimi Hendrix, and Duke Ellington, just to name a few!

When I was at my local library, I saw a book called "The Girl Who Heard Colors," by Marie Harris, a New Hampshire author. I picked it up and, to my surprise, it was about a little girl who has synesthesia. She hears colors when she experiences everyday noises.

When I read this book, I immediately thought of Kandinsky and thought it would be wonderful way of explaining synesthesia and Kandinsky's work to younger children. I was so excited, I started talking about it to my children and explaining that Harris has met other synesthetes. She often asks, "What color is seven?" to her young audiences. Most children won't know how to answer this, but some will say "yellow" or "blue" (there's no "right" answer for seeing a number as a color, it is personalized). My children all went "hmmmm," except for my 6-year-old who was playing Legos in another room and yelled, "Seven is black. Five is yellow." He says he only knows the colors for 1-10 and promptly listed them for me.

Does my son have synesthesia? I don't know. What I do know is that he has trouble hearing (he is partially hearing impaired) so I find it intriguing that he can see numbers as colors. I wonder if his brain decided to start making sensory connections in other ways. 

I think this book will give your students something to talk about. The story encourages seeing things from another's point of view and being sensitive when people have reactions to things that we may not understand. In one part of the book, Jillian is overwhelmed by the cacophony of noises in her classroom and puts her hands over her ears--the sounds and resulting bombardment of colors that she experiences are too much for her. 

Sometimes we think everyone is experiencing the world just like we are. This book does a wonderful job teaching a bit of empathy in a sweet way. Check it out!


  1. So cool! Looking for this book for my classroom library! Thanks! :)

  2. Thank you for the lesson on synesthesia and introducing me to the book The Girl Who Heard Colours. I'm going to see if I can buy it for the library and use it in my art lessons.

  3. This is terrific! I will definitely be looking for this book. What a great connection to Kandinsky.

    1. Thank you all--I know, what a find! It truly is a great way to describe something I wasn't very good at describing before! And I'm excited that the author is from NH--what a great connection for my students! Thank you for stopping by!

  4. Hello. I wrote a book called "Hollis and the Flying Piano." It is, basically, about synesthesia, only from a sound perspective as opposed to colors. As I am also involved in the art world, I thought this might give your art students as much talk about as other books you've mentioned.
    Hollis and the Flying Piano (Amazon) and Hollis and the Cosmos (Amazon). I hope you like them and find them helpful.
    Stefani Gosselink

    1. Thank you, Stephanie, for your comment and letting me know about your books! I'll check them out! Take care, Mrs. P


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