Virginia is in a wolfish mood. Her sister, Vanessa, tries everything to make her feel better. Virginia thinks she could be happy again in Bloomsberry, but Vanessa can’t find such a place in their atlas so she paints Bloomsberry on their bedroom walls.
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Kids Can Press) is a book of many layers. Unless this story’s target age group is like Matilda and reads books well beyond their years, it is unlikely that they know anything about Virginia Woolf. But Maclear has done an exceptional job of taking a mature historical figure and introducing her to children in a meaningful way. While adult readers understand the references to Woolf and her mental illness, Virginia Wolf tackles the difficult task of explaining depression to children, and it does so brilliantly.
This story does not beat readers over the head with facts about depression or who Virginia Woolf was. Instead, it is a subtle and beautiful book about two imaginative sisters who are suffering: one because her world has become gloomy for reasons she doesn’t understand, and the other because her dear sister is hurting and she can’t figure out a way to make things better.
The dark, gloomy illustrations complement Virginia’s melancholy mood and eventually give way to pages that pop with colour. As the sisters discover the imaginative world of Bloomsberry, things are sunny again, at least for the moment.
Virginia Wolf is creative and delightfully unusual with its dual meanings, dark undertones and playful use of words and colour. It is a book that encourages conversation. Virginia Wolf is a definite must for bookshelves of young and old alike.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ½ (4 ½ hearts)