Once upon a time there was a little boy whose mother regularly took him and his siblings to the library. Every time he went, he either borrowed or returned a wonderful book about a train that ran away. The most vivid picture was of a train leaping over a drawbridge that was partway open, and that image stayed with him for many years even though he could not remember the title or the author of the book.
Many people have fond memories of books by Virginia Lee Burton: The Little House (Caldecott Award, health 1943), Katy and the Big Snow, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, which turned 75 years old this year. Full of nostalgia and beautiful illustrations with sweeping vistas, Burton’s classic stories demonstrate her skill as a book designer as well as writer and artist. She wrote for her own two sons, and her work has proven effective for several generations.
This week we are reviewing four books that Burton both wrote and illustrated. (The Song of Robin Hood is also worth looking for at your library; it was written by Anne Malcomson and illustrated by Burton.) They are all worth celebrating and sharing with your children or grandchildren.
“Her stories may be simple and straightforward; but her books have heroes and heroines children can understand and enjoy, ingenious and satisfactory endings, and lively illustrations. The books survive because they exhibit so effectively the elements most basic to children’s literature.” (from Children’s Books and their Creators, Anita Silvey, ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1995.)
Oh, and that boy who couldn’t remember the book he loved when he was little? He grew up and met a librarian who found out that it was Choo-Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away, Virginia Lee Burton’s first book. That librarian gave him a copy for Christmas, and he married her.
We are living happily ever after.