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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Kyo Maclear
Age Range: 6-8
“One day my sister Virginia
Woke up feeling wolfish
She made wolf sounds
And did strange things …”
The opening page sets the scene for what is a very unusual and perceptive picture book.
Whatever Vanessa tries to do to lift her sister’s mood, nothing seems to work – painting her a picture, friends calling (Virginia scares them away); everything is wrong, from the colour of Vanessa’s dress to the racket the birds are making.
“The whole house sank
Up became down
Bright became dim
Glad became gloom”
Nothing cheered Virginia up. She pulled up her covers and said “LEAVE ME ALONE”. Then she stopped speaking altogether. When Vanessa suggests that there must be something that will make her feel better Virginia finally growls that if she could fly to a perfect place. “A place with iced cakes and beautiful flowers and excellent trees” she would feel better. When Vanessa asks her where that might be, her sister replies, “Bloomsberry of course”.
Canadian author Kyo Maclear’s different and original story, delicately explores the theme of depression. The text is delightfully witty and cleverly uses an imagined relationship between the writer Virginia Woolf and her sister, artist Vanessa Bell as children. In some ways it’s quite a complex book: with the punning on Woolf’s surname and the Bloomsbury Group (Bloomsberry) as well as the metaphor of the ‘wolf’ depicting the bout of depression.
The artwork by Canadian illustrator Isabelle Arsenault complement Maclear’s prose to perfection, capturing and conveying the change in mood: from the black and white silhouettes and muted colours of Virginia’s ‘black space’ she inhabits, where even the soft toys carry sad expressions, to a sudden transformation as Vanessa picks up her art box and begins to create a ‘perfect place’ for her sister. Now there is an explosion of vibrant and swirling colours– a garden full of beautiful flowers, trees and iced cakes. Soon Virginia is joining in too and as she smiles for the first time, the wolf’s ears are replaced by a giant bow on her head.
Virginia WOLF is an incredibly powerful and uplifting book tackling a challenging subject with sensitivity and humour.