In the literary bounty of books about bad moods and bad days, this one goes deeper than most, poignantly showing literal and metaphorical glimpses of real depression.
“One day my sister Virginia woke up feeling wolfish. She made wolf sounds and did strange things,” begins narrator Vanessa. Huddled in bed, only pointy ears showing, is a wolf. Virginia’s unable to bear the bright-yellow gingham of Vanessa’s dress or the sound of Vanessa brushing her own teeth. This is potent misery: “The whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim.” Vanessa creeps into bed to comfort her sister, but what finally helps is painting. At the wolf’s suggestion, Vanessa paints a whimsical, expanding world called “Bloomsberry,” bursting with blossoms, birds and magic. Arsenault reproduces the earlier “Up became down” spread but inverts its position and hue: Now objects waft upwards and the mood is buoyant. The wolf—previously a black near-silhouette with snout and tail, wearing a dress—morphs back into a girl. Wolf ears, silhouetted from behind, become a hair bow. Ink, pencil and paint deftly divide color from black-and-white as emotional symbolism. Lettering is carefully handwritten.
Knowledge of Virginia Woolf and her painter-sister Vanessa Bell is unnecessary; this works beautifully as a bad-day/bad-mood or animal-transformation tale, while readers who know actual depression will find it handled with tenderly forceful aplomb. (Picture book. 5-10)