Entertainment Books

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Sisters' secret childhood stories are told with splashes of colour

Virginia Wolf
Virginia Wolf

Imogen Carter

The novelist Virginia Woolf once described the bond she shared with her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, as a "close conspiracy". When she took her own life in 1941 she left two suicide notes: one for her husband and one for her beloved Vanessa.

Now, with beautiful splashes of colour and witty, uplifting text, the Canadian duo Kyo Maclear and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault imagine a secret childhood world of the sisters, while delicately exploring the theme of depression, in this exceptional picture book for ages four and upwards.

It's a tale to delight literary adults and the kids they're tucking in. "One day my sister Virginia woke up feeling wolfish," the story opens, as we learn Virginia is in one of her dark moods. Vanessa tries everything to lift her sister's spirits (treats, cats, funny faces) but nothing will coax this shadowy creature with wolf's ears from under the bedcovers.

Finally, Virginia growls: "If I were flying now I might feel better." Her desired destination? "Bloomsberry." Suddenly the tale bursts into full colour as Vanessa picks up her art box and begins creating. A "perfect place" emerges on Virginia's walls - all flowers, trees and iced buns.

Before long the sisters are collaborating, spinning stories and we see Virginia smile for the first time, a pointy oversized bow sitting jauntily on her head in place of the wolf's ears. "How are you feeling?" asks Vanessa. "'Much better'," says Virginia, "looking a bit sheepish."


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