Thursday, December 31, 2009

Virginia Lee Burton, My New BFF

While Wendy’s busy eating Little House On the Prairie-style, I’ve been exploring another Little House author – Virginia Lee Burton of The Little House. I've also decided I want Virginia for my BFF.

Unfortunately, she was born in 1909 and died (of cancer) in 1968.

Burton was the author and illustrator of several classics of children’s literature; besides The Little House you might recognize Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow. I just finished reading her biography by Barbara Elleman – Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art.

I loved this book. I mentally hugged myself in delight the entire time I was reading it, and physically ached when it was over. I longed to go to school with Virginia, and to work with her at summer camp (yes, she really was a summer camp counselor). I wished I could learn design from her at Folly Cove. Folly Cove! That’s what her home was called.

The photographs and artwork included are superb. Burton herself was obviously both joyful and photogenic. The artwork includes familiar and less familiar illustrations from her books, concept sketches, and printed fabric pieces from her Folly Cove workshop, where she trained and worked with a large group of designers.

Oh, and there’s a photo of Burton with her sons, which shows the scenes the she painted or drew on their bedroom walls! It’s like they lived in one of her books!

And her sons do remember her fondly. None of this “yeah, she was a great artist but she sucked as a mom” trash.

The biography is cataloged as juvenile literature, but it’s really not. It’s a biography about juvenile literature, and the book is short (127 pages, including all the pictures), but it’s written at an adult level. Older children or teens might enjoy it, especially if they are interested in art. I did show some of the sketches and designs to my almost-10-year-old, and she was interested enough to stop and look.

Artists and designers may be interested in Burton’s work as well, and in her thoughts on design. Burton had been working on a book on design before her death, but never finished it.

I highly recommend this book, and I’d like to thank Melissa of KidLit History for pointing me to it.

P.S. – as far as I know, Virginia Lee Burton is no relation to us.


Unknown said...

I'm going to have to chase this down. Burton's _Life Story_ is one of my desert island books.

Kathleen McDade said...

I'd never heard of Life Story until I read this! I definitely want to chase that down.

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked it! I loved all the photos too. And the Folly Cove stuff was fascinating. I would kill for some of that fabric, but somehow I fear that finding it would be very difficult and then very expensive.

BrunhildeCrow said...

I read that her little house where she worked was left empty for years. Those were the very years I went to college just down the road! Had I only been less lazy about hiking and more prone to petty crime, I could have broken in to that little house and found all her things and kept them as my own! Missed opportunities...

Jeanine Sallos said...

Kathleen, have you read Bill Peet's autobiography? If you like(d) his books, you'll really enjoy it - also illustrated by him.

Thanks for the tip on Virginia Lee Burton - I love her books!

Anonymous said...

I asked for this for Christmas thanks to Melissa's mention -- it's on my night stand now, waiting to be savored. I read Mike Mulligan again last night to my 3yo and fell in love with that story all over again. The illustrations are so fun!


Playing by the book said...

I think Jean at The Artful Parent might particularly like this book so I'm heading on over there right now to tell her about your post!

silly eagle books said...

This looks good--the cover is gorgeous!