Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review - "Virginia Wolf"

There are lots of children’s books about having a bad day. Poor Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day comes immediately to mind. So does Kevin Henkes’ Lilly in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, in which her kind teacher tells her, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” This life lesson has served me well over the years, and is the subject of Kyo Maclear’s wonderful new picture book, Virginia Wolf. And no, that is not a typo.

Virginia woke up feeling “wolfish”. She didn’t want to play with her friends, or with her sister, Vanessa. She was even irritable with the birds outside. “The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim. Glad became gloom.” Vanessa tries her best to cheer up her sister, but nothing works, until her sister mentions a place full of flowers and frosted cakes and “absolutely no doldrums” (what a wonderful word!). “Where is that?” Vanessa asks. “Bloomsberry, of course,” came the reply. And so Vanessa decides to paint and create her sister’s happy place. “I made it look just the way it sounded…I brought the outside inside.” Vanessa’s act of sisterly affection turns Virginia’s gloomy day glad and saves the day.
According to the author info on the cover flap, Maclear based her story on the real life sisters of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, but really, the emotions she’s dealing with are universal. Like Alexander, like Lilly, Virginia simply has a bad, bad day. And who can’t relate to that? Maclear perfectly captures that feeling of being down, especially when it’s for no apparent reason. Isabelle Arsenault’s sumptuous illustrations are equally impressive in representing Virginia’s wolfish mood (she is first seen only in silouette) and Vanessa’s artistic effort is bright, imaginative and full of both childish scribbles and more mature undertakings.
I loved Virginia Wolf when I first read it, and in sharing it with young ones, I’ve come to appreciate it even more. The universality of the story, mixed with a very personal connection to Virginia’s “doldrums” make this one of the stand out picture books of 2012.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, ill. by Isabelle Arsenault
2012, Kids Can Press
Library copy

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