Review: Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear

virginia wolf

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

This picture book is loosely based on the life of Virginia Wolf and her sister.  Adults will enjoy the tie-ins, but they are not necessary for children to understand in order to enjoy the book.  It is a story told from Vanessa’s point of view.  Virginia was having a “wolfish” sort of day where nothing pleased her and any sort of noise bothered her.  Vanessa tried to talk with her and discovered that Virginia was dreaming of a far-away perfect place to be.  So Vanessa snuck away and found art supplies and paper to create that world for her sister.  Soon her walls were covered in birds, butterflies, flowers and color.  There was even room for a wolf to wander.  Virginia’s mood lifted and she was ready to play once again. 

This book takes a direct look at depression but can also be used for more transient moods of children.  The author’s writing is rich and beautiful.  When Virginia first gets depressed, she explains it this way: “The whole house sank.  Up became down.  Bright became dim.  Glad became gloom.”  When Vanessa paints the garden it is described this way: “I painted leaves that said hush in the wind and fruit that squeaked and slowly I created a place called Bloomsberry.  I made it look just the way it sounded.”  This is a book that not only has art as a solution and an escape, but also has art in the writing itself.

Arsenault’s illustrations have a wonder to them that is astonishing.  Done in mixed media of ink, pencil, watercolor and gouache, the images play with darkness and light with a fearlessness.  Color is used sparingly at first, then when the art appears it is lush and vibrant.  One completely understands the way that art can lift a person.  Perhaps my favorite small detail is that the art at first when seen through Vanessa’s eyes is adult, lush and fine lined.  Later when glimpsed in retrospect, it has a childlike quality to it instead. 

This picture book is a small work of art that speaks to the power of creativity and art to lift moods.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.