When Virginia wakes up feeling "wolfish," her sister, Vanessa, tries to cheer her up. After treats, funny faces and other efforts fail, Vanessa begins to paint a glorious mural depicting the world of the sisters' imagination. Will it help lift Virginia from her doldrums?
It's not often that a writer-illustrator team conceives a second work so much more ambitious and complex than the first (in this case, 2010's Spork), and rarer still to execute it so well. In an invented episode from Virginia Woolf's depression-beset youth, young Vanessa Bell narrates the story of one of her sister's bad spells, punning on Woolf's adult surname: "She made wolf sounds and did strange things." Virginia's rages disrupt the entire household ("Up became down. Bright became dim") until Virginia expresses a wish to fly to "a perfect place.... with frosted cakes and beautiful flowers." "Where is that?" Vanessa asks. "Bloomsberry, of course," Virginia answers. As Virginia sleeps, Vanessa paints "Bloomsberry" for her sister on endless sheets of drawing paper, remaking the world for her. Arsenault conveys the transformation by moving suddenly from b&w silhouettes to a swirling, multicolored fantasy of swings, cupcakes, and gigantic flowers. Some readers may be shaken by Virginia's ferocity it's hard to soften madness but Vanessa's act of love is recounted with grace and sensitivity in this remarkable collaboration. Ages 4 8.