Review by

Virginia Wolf

The world of Bloomsberry soothes Virginia's turbulent mind in this charming and inventive picture book

Virginia is feeling wolfish. Scowling, growling, and howling at the moon, her thoughts are dark. Her sister Vanessa is understandably anxious; can her artistic efforts dispel the storm clouds? This striking book is inspired by Virginia Woolf’s close relationship with her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell. The healing power of art, and the bonds of sisterhood, are portrayed with the aid of some beautiful illustrations.

Virginia Woolf’s fragile mental health may seem a curious subject for a children’s book. However Kyo Maclear’s touch is delicate, and illuminates the subject of depressive moods for younger readers.

All children recognise the big bad wolf of fairytale legend. In these smoky silhouette illustrations, Virginia even appears to have lupine ears and tail, to complement her fierce snarls of rage. The rage subsides, to replaced with silent melancholia. Unable to raise her sister’s spirits, Vanessa slips into bed beside her.

We were two quiet lumps under the blanket.
We sank deep among the pillows

Vanessa begs to know, what will make Virginia feel better? The answer is that Virginia wants to fly away. To fly to a place abundant with iced cakes, flowers, and excellent trees. A place called Bloomsberry. Consulting an atlas, Vanessa can find no such place. The only thing to do is conjure Bloomsberry up herself.

Vanessa finds her art box, and sets to work on the bedroom walls. Bloomsberry is beautiful. It has sweet-shaped blossoms, iced cakes, and a ladder that reaches the window.

…so that what was down could climb up

And Virginia does climb up.

The pages where Virginia’s spirits lift are vivid and joyful, as the sisters create Bloomsberry together. The silhouetted illustrations burst into colour, and we find that what we perceived to be Virginia’s wolfish ears, is in fact a big, bright hair bow. Virginia Wolf’s literary allusions add poignancy to its wholehearted prescription for the creative arts.

An unusual and lovely book.

Virginia Wolf is illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault and published by Book Island, 32 pages.

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