Kyo Maclear, Isabelle Arsenault, Virginia Wolf
Published 2012 by Kids Can Press, 32p
Vanessa Bell was only two and a half years older than Virginia Woolf but after their mother died she became extremely maternal to her younger sister, offering advice and comfort when Virginia had her breakdowns. Virginia expressed herself through writing, while Vanessa painted. They were both members of The Bloomsbury Group, whose members believed in the importance of arts. Unfortunately Virginia Woolf committed suicide after having struggled with depression and mental illness most of her life.
Kyo Maclear’s story, accompanied by Isabelle Arsenault’s gorgeous illustrations speaks about depression, illustrating an episode of Virginia’s bad moods. What is fantastic about this book is that one doesn’t need to know the biographical details of Virginia Woolf’s life to understand the story. As we all have bad days, the narrative will work for children and adults as well.
One morning Virginia woke up feeling wolfish, screaming and refusing to see the world.
The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.
Vanessa tried her best to cheer Virginia but she kept making the wolfish sounds. Arsenault beautifully manages to capture Virginia’s inner struggle, her turbulence. The first pages of the book are in grey and the girl appears as trapped in a wolf’s body.
Then Virginia finally spoke to her sister, telling her she would like to go to a perfect place, Bloomsberry,
a place with frosted cakes and beautiful flowers and excellent trees to climb and absolutely no doldrums.
When Vanessa begins to paint the room for her sister, the story explodes in colour and every page becomes progressively cheerful and blooming. Virginia responds to it, tells stories and eventually her mood changes. Gloom becomes glad and the wolf disappears.
The two sisters have a strong connection that gives them the resources to transform their world. They use art and their brilliant imagination to fight darkness and to tame the wolves inside.