Tag Archives: emotions

(story)time: Virginia Wolf

F received this birthday book from friends last weekend and we can’t stop reading it (and I can’t stop looking at it). I’m still marveling at the story and the illustrations in Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault. The story is loosely based on real life sisters – writer, Virginia Woolf, and painter, Vanessa Bell. Young Virginia wakes one morning in a decidedly wolfish mood, and her sister does her best to lift the clouds and remind her sister of the things that bring her the greatest joy.

The illustrations in this book bring me so much joy – look at the details in this bedroom – I feel like it captures all the things I love about our house in one drawing. The details on that mantel, the floor to ceiling bookshelves, the iron bed, the light blues and reds. And there is Virginia, stirring, not quite herself.


Beyond the illustrations, the act of reading this book is so enjoyable. Virginia growls, and her words come out as angry, demanding, even slightly ridiculous requests and admonishments. Hmmm, we never hear words like that around here…


Quite honestly, it’s perfect – perfect in the way that it describes the way a child sometimes wakes up into the world. Perfect in the way that it describes the unpredictability of triggers. 


Vanessa does not give up on her sister, despite the hopelessness of the situation. Virginia starts to soften a bit as she begins to tire of this bothersome mood. She attempts to articulate her thoughts of a place she’d rather be than where she currently is…


…and as she sleeps, her sister brings those things to life on the walls around her, blurring the edges of the walls, the mood, the shadows, just enough to give Virginia an escape.

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This book reminds me why I love children’s literature so much. I cannot remember the last time I read a book that spoke to me in the way that this book does. There are no extra words here; each handwritten one is important and enough. The unwritten ones are even better. 


When you study the angle of the wolf’s head, can’t you see the gestures of all the other great books that deal with the real ways children (and adults) grapple with these emotions? Can you see Max on the island amongst the Wild Things, tired and spent and missing his supper? Do you remember reading Ramona raging against the injustice of being treated as little when she’s convinced she’s so big? (Until she’s sick and small and really needs her mother.) When was the last time you woke up as a wolf, with no softening in sight?


This is a book about the very best parts and most trying moments of being sisters (or brothers, or friends, or human). This is a book about using your talents to bring joy to others in need. This is a book about the absurdity of emotions – how they change us into unrecognizable creatures of storybook lore. This is a book about being six, or twelve or fifteen or forty or two, and how our world can turn upside down on a dime. This is a book about imagination and confidence in your ability to create your own story. This is a book about depression, and how others can offer us tokens of happiness and they just aren’t enough. This is a book about persistence and patience and trust. This is a book about finding the courage to take the ladder out. This is a book about imagination and stories and gardens and sweets and sisters and all the good things that can exist with sadness and still be rendered so lovely and real. This is a perfect book, and I think you might love it too.


Find these titles at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

(story)time: In My Heart, A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek (and Inside Out, the movie)


I’ve had this post started for awhile, and thought I might talk about the book while also talking about the various emotions on display during any typical day with my girls, particularly the youngest one. But I kept pushing it off for one reason or another, and I’m so glad that I did because now I also want to talk about the new movie Inside Out in tandem with this book.


I saw In My Heart, A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek a few months ago at the bookstore when I was looking for a gift, and I picked it up to give to F. I feel like we are always talking about (or reacting to) her strong emotions. In those early years – the toddler and preschool years – it felt like we were constantly reminding her to “use her words” in an effort to get her to express herself clearly to us instead of simply flying off the handle.


She has zero difficulties expressing herself through her words anymore. She can very quickly and effectively articulate whatever she is feeling, particularly when she perceives some type of injustice. Since she’s five (and the younger sister, and the baby in the house), that perception of injustice is usually about her. In fact, most things really are about her. But we’re also slowly starting to see the development of awareness of how others might be feeling. That doesn’t always mean that she’s willing to put the feelings or needs of others before her own pressing needs and fragile feelings, but recognition of them is a great first step. And on more than one occasion – and more frequently as time goes by – we can clearly see that she is able to observe something happening to someone else and then empathize with them and show us that she’s thinking about the way they must be feeling. This is something extraordinary to witness, particularly in a child that is still so centrally focused.

I really like In My Heart – I enjoy reading it with F, and expanding on the conversation with each page. She can very easily relate to each emotion described within the book, and her face and her voice change as she reads along with me. I think this book is such a great starting place for the discussion of emotions with children.

But I’m also going to recommend a movie in this reading post!

Last Friday, on opening night, the four of us went to see the movie Inside Out. M sent me a text in the middle of the day about the movie, suggesting that we see it that very night. I knew a little bit about it from various pieces on NPR, and I was excited about the entire cast of the film. But outside of the general premise of the movie – that the main characters are emotional components of the brain – I knew very little else.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so much. Not just the movie itself, but watching my kids watch the movie. Or watching my husband watch the movie. Or how we all just kept laughing and looking at one another as we watched it. Or how F was standing up in front of her seat at the end with tears filling her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. At the end of the show we asked her if she was crying, and she completely owned it. “I am, and now I want to sit right here and watch it all over again.”

On so many levels, this movie really is a true gem. We (M and I) naturally related to it as parents of girls – especially since one is eleven going on twelve. But the way this movie looks at emotions is so very smart and clever and hilarious and spot on that it is truly a movie for everyone. I’ve been part of several discussions over the past few months on the subject of emotions – some on the idea of happiness (or joy), and if those states are achievable (or desirable) goals, or if they can reside alongside with what we often think as the opposite emotion, sadness. And what if sadness is really depression, and it’s not something that you can snap out of or wish (or will) away? And what does intense grief do to these emotions – what happens when the core memories we’ve formed with loved ones, memories that used to be joyful, feel so full of sadness that they threaten to permanently change who we are, to ourselves and to others? How does a family continue when those memories are halted abruptly? Can there ever be enough of those golden orbs? Are we spinning enough of them now with our own girls?

Both the book and the movie assign colors to emotions. This is not a radical concept – it’s been done for ages. In the book, those colors are neatly assigned to one full page spread; in the movie they stand alone too… for awhile. But that’s where I’ll stop with this discussion and let you immediately look up the movie times at your favorite cineplex and buy your tickets. And after you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you thought.

Find this title at your favorite local independent bookstore. Happy reading!

***And enjoy your movie at your favorite theatre – we LOVE this one!