Virginia Lee Burton, Fabulous Children’s Books Author
Dear Mama, if it is difficult for you to find wholesome, engaging books for young boys, look no further. Virginia Lee Burton’s children’s books are just the thing to acquaint boys with the wonderful world of books. And her books seem to not have an set age range…even older boys become engrossed in the pathos of the story and detailed illustrations!
“I am a part of everything that I have read.” ~Theodore Roosevelt
Virginia Lee Burton is best remembered as an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. Her memorable characters, still ‘alive’ in our grown children’s imaginations, make her one of our very favorite children’s book authors.
Virginia was born in Massachusetts in 1909. She won the prestigious Caldecott Medal for The Little House in 1943, and her illustrations for Song of Robin Hood (1948) found a spot on the Caldecott Honor list.
Burton’s themes take us back to a simpler life. She pays tribute to heroes who persevere through difficulties with goodness and strength of character.
Burton specializes in bringing the inanimate to life with her vibrant and detailed drawings and stories of courage and vulnerability. The beauty of the her stories is that they are simple, yet deep and complicated at the same time.
One biographer wrote, “Virginia Lee Burton believed in trying to give children what they like and want. The popular children’s book author always wrote and illustrated her books in collaboration with her two sons and their friends; if something didn’t appeal to them it would be changed. In this way her books were created and became classics of children’s literature.”
It is true that her books captivate boys. Trains! Trucks! Tractors! Cable cars and Steam Shovels and Diesel Engines and Bulldozers! Every young boy’s dream. But in truth, everyone (girls included) from toddlers to grandparents are drawn into the oftentimes heart-tugging predicaments the subjects find themselves in.
Her use of personification, a highlight of her stories, makes for rich conversation with children. Her winsome animated machines can lead to great fun as we think about machines and why we sometimes compare them to humans (or animals) when we talk about them. Can you tell we like her works?
In all, she wrote and illustrated 7 children’s books:
The Little House is a poignant story of a cute country cottage that becomes engulfed by the city that grows up around it. The house has an expressive face of windows and doors, and even the feelings of a person, so she’s sad when she’s surrounded by the dirty, noisy city’s hustle and bustle: “She missed the field of daisies / and the apple trees dancing in the moonlight.” Fortunately, there’s a happy ending, as the house is taken back to the country where she belongs. A classic!” ~Amazon review
“Mike and his trusty steam shovel, Mary Anne, dig deep canals for boats to travel through, cut mountain passes for trains, and hollow out cellars for city skyscrapers — the very symbol of industrial America. But with progress come new machines, and soon the inseparable duo are out of work. Mike believes that Mary Anne can dig as much in a day as one hundred men can dig in a week, and the two have one last chance to prove it and save Mary Anne from the scrap heap. What happens next in the small town of Popperville is a testament to their friendship, and to old-fashioned hard work and ingenuity.” ~Amazon review
“Katy, a red crawler tractor, “could do a lot of things,” Burton explains early on. In the summer she is a bulldozer, helping to build and repair roads in the city of Geoppolis. In the winter, she turns into a snowplow, waiting and waiting for her chance to be useful. Most of the winters, though, the snowfalls are mild and the town doesn’t need Katy. But when the big one finally hits, the town is buried in page after page of powder. The power lines are down. The doctor can’t get his patient to the hospital. The fire department can’t reach a burning house! “Everyone and everything was stopped but… KATY!” Suddenly, the entire community is dependent on one little snowplow. Children love witnessing Katy’s shining moment of glory and will inevitably admire her “chug, chug, chug” endurance.” ~reader Gail Hudson’s Amazon review
Maybelle was a cable car a San Francisco cable car. . . She rang her gong and sang her song from early morn till late at night. . . . By recounting the actual events in San Francisco’s effort to keep the city’s cable cars running, this classic story illustrates how the voice of the people can be heard in the true spirit of democracy. Virginia Lee Burton’s original art for Maybelle the Cable Car was retrieved from the archives of the San Francisco Public Library to re-create this edition with all the vibrant charm of the original, which was published in 1952. ~Amazon review
“The story of a rebellious little engine that isn’t content and wants to show off, runs away and ultimately learns an important lesson. Does this sound like anyone you know? The author skillfully and carefully weaves a story that incorporates many topics of interest and importance to small children, such as travel, time, distance, trouble, responsibility, duty, etc., within the context of a story about a train. The illustrations are masterful and were prepared by Virginia Lee Burton herself. As with her other books, she is writing to her own small children, which adds to the richness, depth, sensitivity and focus of the story.” ~reader review
“This is an old fashioned, action packed, rootin’ tootin’ western that has it all…cattle rustling, hold-ups, a stampede and kidnapping, a wild and thrilling stagecoach chase, and through it all, Calico comes to the rescue, outsmarts the bad guys and saves the day. Virginia Lee Burton’s clever, witty text is dramatic, engaging and full of wild west colloquialisms that will have both kids and adults laughing and cheering at all the fun. Her marvelous comic strip illustrations are expressive and full of detail and beg to be pored over and explored. Put it all together and you have the makings of a timeless classic to share with friends, family and future generations.” ~reader Roz Levine’s Amazon review
Now there is a 4-book collection that commemorates Virginia Lee Burton’s most popular classic stories, each featured complete and unabridged. They have been entertaining children, parents, and grandparents for more than sixty years, and I think they will entertain you, too!
“There’s a reason why this book [The Little House] has lasted through 70 years of cultural change in America. Kids love it. Moms and Dads love it. Grandmas and Grandpas love it. What’s not to love?” ~Michael J. Ettner
Caveat: I have not read Life Story, but it has quite a few references to evolutionary processes as she describes how the earth came into being, and so I share this warning.
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Thanks for reading!