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The Paint Box

by Maxine Trottier, Stella East, illus.

Maxine Trottier and Stella East’s latest collaboration is as much about the power of giving as it is about artistic expression in Renaissance Venice. Marietta is the beloved daughter of the great painter Tintoretto, who defies convention and teaches her all he knows about art. Disguised as a boy, Marietta is then free to explore all the galleries and studios in Venice. She carries with her a paint box – a treasured gift from her father.

Marietta meets Piero, an enslaved cabin boy whose owner is being painted by Tintoretto. She is at once envious of all Piero has seen in the vast world outside of Venice. But Piero, a budding artist himself, longs to stay in one place and learn to paint. Friendship blossoms between the two as they acknowledge their mutual dreams of becoming artists. As the time nears for Piero to set sail, Marietta devises a plan that will ensure both his physical and artistic freedom.

Stella East’s illustrations carry this gentle story of sacrifice and its reward admirably. She has combined her own photos and paintings of Venice to create dreamy collages that echo the Renaissance masters. Intriguing vantage points and close-ups draw the reader into the narrative, and the soft hues reinforce its historical distance. Having the colours fade as the story concludes is an effective touch. Trottier’s prose also has some lovely imagery – “Like a bird in a nest he was rocked to sleep” and “they were like ghosts who had once lived and loved and breathed.” Her heroine is all the more engaging because she too once lived and loved and breathed.

Marietta’s honouring of Piero’s artistic soul and her final gift to him clearly state the importance of creating art, a message that has as much impact now as it did during the Renaissance. The Paint Box reminds us that children can and should be introduced to fine art at an early age, and this lovely picture book is an enjoyable starting point.