BooksForKidsBlog

Monday, September 04, 2017

Following in Her Tracks! Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherry Duskey Rinker

For everyone in seaside Folly Cove, Virginia Lee Burton was just Jinnee.

Anyone who meets Jinnee will tell you that she is quite
magical.

Jinnee Burton was a lovely, graceful woman--a strong professional dancer, a skillful journalist, an artistic soul who loved fabric design, gardening, and all the animals on her small farm, and to her two small boys, Aris and Michael, she was a wizard who could draw anything they wanted. And what they wanted was Big Machines--huge, honking machines, movers and shakers, strong, powerful, and capable of making and doing almost anything. Just like their mother Jinnee.

It begins with a line: black and rough.
Then a squiggle... and a rub.
As little Aris watches, a puff
of smoke appears, clears,
and then...

WHOOOooo oo oo! a whistle cries.
"I see a train!" says Aris! "More! Do more!"

Choo Choo was Jinnee's first picture story of a little runaway train. But then it was Michael's turn to choose, and he wanted a big digger that could build big things, and Jinnee created a steam shovel who dug great railroad beds, highways and runways, and foundations for skyscrapers, but wasn't too proud to dig a cellar for a schoolhouse for his owner Mike. That was Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. But her boys wanted still more, so Jinnee's magic wand created a heroic little snowplow, and along came Katy and the Big Snow and then the hill-climbing Maybelle the Cable Car.

And then Jinnee had an idea that combined the quaint cottages of her beloved Folly Cove with the big trucks and trains and diggers and builders her boys loved. It was her memorable Caldecott Award-winning The Little House, a delightful story about both the big machines that changed the American landscape into great cities but also a story of returning to the roots, a grassy hillside home for the Little House, a parable that was both of its time and surely ahead of its time in its contemplation of urbanization.

Virginia Lee Burton was a American original who captured the spirit of her time in stories that delighted children while resonating with grownups in their ethos of hard work and loyalty and their sense of place in mid-century American. And Sherri Duskey Rinker's celebration of Burton's work is also a celebration of the art of the picture book itself. Newbery winner John Rocco (for Blizzard) puts his superb draftsmanship to work portraying Burton's art perfectly, even showing her hands at work, sketching and painting her trademark illustrations, right down to an idyllic apple tree with swings for Aris and Michael beside the happy little pink house we all know and love.

Rinker, whose best-sellers Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site and Mighty, Mighty Construction Site pay skillful writerly homage to Burton's big machines stories, follows Burton's lead, giving the Arises and Michaels of today what they wanted--"More!" A first purchase for all libraries and picture book lovers everywhere.

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