Cover Image

Virginia Wolf by K. Maclear.

Maclear, Kyo. Virginia Wolf. Illus. Isabelle Arsenault. Toronto : Kids Can Press, 2010. Print.

Vanessa awakes one morning to find her sister, Virginia, transformed. Virginia is not herself. She has become furtive and embittered, snippy and distinctly wolfish. While Isabelle Arsenault's illustrations have a consistent prettiness and amiable levity, the ambiguous and slightly sinister nature of Virginia's' transformation is undeniable.

Kyo Maclear's narrative balances how children will interpret the change that has come over Virginia and Vanessa's attempts to return her sister to herself and how adults will understand the allusions to depression and alienation. Virginia is literally - in the context of a child's understanding and the illustrations - a wolf in an archetypal little girl's dress. She is also genuinely frightening in the depths and intensity of her withdrawal and this gives Virginia Wolf a lovely little frisson of fairy tale dread.

Vanessa perseveres in trying to redeem her sister and rescue her from her dour transformation. It is creativity, honesty of self-expression and love that eventually reestablish the sister's rapport. As Maclear elegantly conveys, accompanied by an inspired and expressive page design, “Down became up. Dim became bright. Gloom became glad.”

Inspired by Maclear's creative interpretation of the relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, the story can be enjoyed at many different levels. The reader can certainly intuit how much the writer and artist enjoy each other’s work and are relishing the imaginative potential of their subject matter. The layered complexity of the text is enriched by the intuitive collaboration between artist and writer evident in the evocative text and toothsomely vivid illustrations.

Highly Recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche

Matilda spends her days lavishing attention on the University of Alberta’s metadata but children’s illustrated books, literature for young adults and graphic novels also make her heart sing. Her reviews benefit from the critical influence of a four year old daughter and a one year old son – both geniuses. Matilda’s super power is the ability to read comic books aloud.