Virginia Wolf! by Kyo Maclear
Ill. by Isabelle Arsenault. Book Island, 2017. ISBN 9781911496038
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Mental health, Depression, Virginia Woolf. With nods to The yellow wallpaper (Charlotte Perkins Gilman 1892) on the endpapers, the story of Virginia's slide into depression, becoming a wolf, is handed with such clarity that even a younger reader can see what the story is about. They do not need to know the story of Virginia Woolf or the book The yellow wallpaper, but these echoes are there for older readers and adults to recognise and perhaps seek out.
Vanessa is dismayed when her sister begins to sound like a wolf. She keeps to her bed, growling at any attempt to calm her, her ears seem to grow larger, she is disinterested in anything and everyone around her, she tells everyone to leave her alone.
Akin to several books I have recently read, I need a hug! (Aaron Blabey, 2015), Blue whale blues (Peter Caenavas, 2015), Mr Huff (Anna Walker, 2015) and Small things (Mel Tregonning, 2016) each book in its own distinctive way tackles depression in children and young adults. Each book could be used in a group showing the readers that they are not alone, that others feel like this too, with all books depicting the child overcoming their low days with open communication and support from friends and families.
Vanessa takes to her paints, making the walls in Virginia's room bright and alive with colour and flowers, taking the word, Bloomsbury at its basic meaning. Her continued support helps Virginia overcome her depression, the ears disappear, she gets out of bed, she becomes a smiling happy child again, and together they leave her room to go out and play.
The illustrations showing Virginia often in shadow or a lump in the bed, reflect the lack of happiness in her life. As the flowers unfold, the trees become higher, the flowers brighter, the ladder is extended out of the room and into the sunshine, into the world outside. These will entice young readers to look at the reasons the illustrator has included some of the things shown. I just love the page starting with 'The whole house sank' with its topsy turvy view of the girls amid various objects, repeated near the end of the book with the line, 'The whole house lifted' with the same illustration shown from a different perspective. Illustrators that make you think and explore make a huge contribution to the success of a story, and this is a wonderful example.
First published by Kids Can Press in Canada in 2012.