Virgina Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault – Virginia Woolf for Children – A Post a Day in May

I’m very fond of picture books for children, especially those that also have an appeal for adults. They are often real works of art like this collaboration between Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault. The idea to introduce children not only to Virginia Woolf but to dark moods caught my interest immediately. Virginia Wolf is loosely based on the relationship between the sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

One day, Vanessa’s sister Virginia wakes in a wolfish mood. She isn’t interested in anything. The colours are gone and all she wants to do is stay in bed, under her covers.

Vanessa thinks long and hard how she could help her sister and finally comes up with an idea. She begins to paint an imaginary place called Bloomsberry on the bedroom walls, using stunning colors. There’s a beautiful garden with flowers and a swing. Soon, Virginia joins her sister and begins to paint as well.

The way this book speaks about dark – or wolfish – moods is done in such a delicate way. It shows what it feels like to be in this mood and how it affects families and friends. But it also tries to show a way out. The amazing thing is that the book doesn’t downplay the mood at all but it also doesn’t overwhelm children. It gets the balance just right. Grown-ups know that Virginia Woolf suffered from depression, but for children she just has a very bad day.

This is from the inside of the book cover jacket:

Here are a few things to help lift a WOLFISH mood:

Lots of treats,

Violin music,

funny faces (sometimes),

fluffy pillows,

a window and clouds,

a good art box,

a painted ladder,

roaming space,

turquoise birds, candy blossoms,

love, love, love,

and a big imagination.

Kyo Maclear has collaborated with other illustrators. I love that she chooses topics that one doesn’t immediately associate with a children’s book. One of her books is about famous chef Julia Child, another one about the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. They both look lovely too.

In the short video that I attached she explains that the book can be understood without knowing who Virginia Woolf is, but that adults can bring their knowledge to the books and will enjoy it in a very different way from the children. This is very clever because, in the end, it’s not kids who buy these picture books but adults who will also read the books to their kids.

20 thoughts on “Virgina Wolf by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault – Virginia Woolf for Children – A Post a Day in May

    • It’s very beautiful. The idea is that it gets more and more colorful towards the end and that’s so lovely to see. I own a few picture books that are so artful, grownups would enjoy them too.

  1. The artwork is gorgeous, Caroline. The themes are important. I love when children’s literature explores mental health. Let me see if Scribd has an e-version of it at least. Also, after I finish reading the book, maybe, I should write to the author, asking her to add dogs/cats to the list of things to help lift a WOLFISH mood. What will we do without them? 😛

  2. This looks so beautiful, Caroline! I like the title, Virginia Wolf 😁 The artwork is so beautiful and spectacular. It is so nice that this book appeals to both children and grown-ups. Will add this to my TBR. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂

    • I think not enough authors think about the parents who have to read the books. Of course, it needs to be for kids but this example shows – you can do both. I do hope you can get it. I tried to order books from Australia before and it’s not so easy.

  3. I don’t often read children’s books, but your review has just encouraged me to do so more. The artwork in this looks beautiful and I love that it’s tackling an important but complex topic in such an imaginative way. I’ll definitely be looking out for this and exploring more of her work!

    • I’m so glad to hear this, Eleanor. Some of the picture books I own are so beautiful. Many are collaborations but there are also artists who do both, write and draw, and those are especially exquisite. In this case, they are both so good and the collaboration works. I hope you’ll discover more of her books. And the idea to write about mental health so kids could understand is laudable.

  4. Ah, I love Virginia Woolf! This book is delightful – the illustrations made me swoon. It’s a beautiful way to capture her relationship with Vanessa.

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