Mar 2, 2012

Virginia Wolf

Virginia Wolf (CAN, JP, US, INT)

Written by: Kyo Maclear

Illustrated by: Isabelle Arsenault

Published by: Kids Can Press

Published on: March 1, 2012

I feel like I have been waiting for this book for a long time. It's been the sweet anticipation of childhood Christmas Eves revisited; these feelings are rare in adulthood, limited to when I am waiting for the delivery of a new Harry Potter or Diana Gabaldon book- and now for a picture book, all because of how much I loved the first collaboration by this duo, Spork.

A young girl is in the doldrums. Her sister senses the wolfish mood, and wants to do what she can to improve it. Snacks work temporarily but music does not. She tries many things before hitting on the perfect solution - transporting her grumpy sister to an imaginary world filled with all her favourite things - cupcakes and flowers and tiny animals and so much more. The creation of this colourful world cheer her sister up and transport the reader to a dream-like garden.

It just so happens that the sisters in this story are loosely based on famous siblings, author Virginia Wolf and artist Vanessa Bell. But the heart of the story is a sisterly love and the message that giving of yourself and your talent means more to anyone than easily obtained things.

My favourite books from childhood are the ones that I could grow with, that were layered enough that I could understand them superficially at a young age but kept opening more layers as I grew older. This is one of those kinds of books.

What my kids see now is raw emotion which is not dampened by adults, and which is dealth with proactively by a sibling full of love. They see imagination in action, adorable characters, and generosity of spirit.

What I see is a lesson I want my kids to learn, about how to deal with their own swirling emotions and those of the people around them. I see glimpses of Woolf books I have enjoyed, like Kew Gardens and To The Lighthouse. It will be exciting to read those books to my kids when they are older and watch as they connect them dots back to this book. I wonder how they will react when they realize that Virginia Woolf's moods were a different beast to the 2-year old tantrums they associate with Virginia Wolf.

I have gushed before about Maclear's writing, how perfectly chosen each word seems to be. She is able to do the same in her children's books but with vocabulary that is accessible even to kindergarteners. The parallels in this book work exceedingly well for children because they are interested in opposites and also because of the quality of Maclear's words.

Arsenault's mixed media illustrations take these clever words and add detail and historical flavour. The colour palette reflects the turn of the 20th century ver well. What I am especially enamoured of, however, is her transitions, such as from black & white to colour and back, or from a page filled with rolling hills to a bed full of siblings. The illustrations convey emotion very well, not just in facial expressions but also in the order of the world around the characters. It is amazing how a switch in colour and a few brushstrokes in the hands of someone so talented can change your feelings from crabby to happy.

Some sort of  symbiotic magic occurs when Arsenault and Maclear work together, and the product is timeless picture books that appeal to children and adults alike. This book should find its way into the libraries of everyone who has ever had a bad mood.

Here is my interview with the author of Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear, and my interview with illustrator Isabelle Arsenault can be found here.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful book, and I look forward to reading your interview with the author....

    But what initially made me want to leave a comment was your mention of Diana Gabaldon--I know exactly what you mean!

    1. Another Jamie & Clare fan? Yay!

      The really good thing about Diana Gabaldon books is they are huge enough that you spend half the waiting time for the next book reading the previous book. Doesn't quite work that way with picture books!

  2. Just a quick comment...I think you wrote the wrong name for Virginia Woolf's was Vanessa Bell...

    Sounds like a great book though :-)

    1. And you fixed it as I was writing! :-)

    2. Oh Helen, thanks so much for pointing this out. Something went wrong with my brain on this post, I even spelled Virginia's name wrong in the title originally. Thirty lashes with a wet noodle for me.

  3. Your recommendation has intrigued me. I will look to get it for the Doucette Library (university curriculum library).
    Thank you.
    Apples with Many Seeds

  4. I haven't seen this one. It sounds wonderful! I'm requesting it at our library the next time I go in. :-)

  5. I haven't seen this one. It sounds wonderful! I'm requesting it at our library the next time I go in. :-)


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it.

I love comments! They make my day.