Family Fridays – Virginia Lee Burton

Posted by on Oct 17, 2014

A good friend from my grad school days is coming to visit this weekend, and I’m so excited to see her. I don’t have very many close friends in my area, so I cherish the times I get to have girl time – lots of tea drinking, sugar eating, laughing ourselves silly, and generally not acting our age. Good times.

She asked if there was anything she could bring for my son, as an early  Christmas/birthday present, and so I suggested a couple of toy options and a couple of book options. I keep a running mental list of books I want to acquire for our family library, and so I picked a couple that had nudged their way to the top, since they are both classic books that will grow with him (I like to expose him to books outside his “suggested age range” since we can talk about the pictures when he’s small, then more and more of the words and story as he gets older. Plus this keeps me from going insane reading the same board books over and over and over), and they feature construction equipment/heavy machinery, which my almost-two-year-old is really into right now. Like REALLY into. He wakes up asking about his “dumpys” [anything bigger than a car, derived from “dump truck”] and goes to sleep after saying bye bye to them. He thinks the protagonist of Are You My Mother is the steam shovel – we have to skip or flip through the rest of the pages really fast to get to the good part.

The two books I suggested were Katy and the Big Snow (we live in Colorado, so I thought this would be especially appropriate) and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I remembered loving both these books as child, but I couldn’t remember much else about them, so I was surprised to find they were written and illustrated by the same person, Virginia Lee Burton. I did a little investigating, and found she also wrote/illustrated a book about the San Francisco cable cars called Maybelle the Cable Car which was especially perfect, since not only does it feature busses and cable cars and Things That Go, but my friend lives in San Francisco!

My friend is very generous, and when I got the box from Barnes and Noble (our deal was that I was allowed to peek, but we’ll let her give them to Mr. T) I found not only ALL three of the above books, but a fourth that I hadn’t seen called Choo Choo, also by Virginia Lee Burton. So naturally as soon as soon as I got Mr. T to sleep I sat down and read all four books cover to cover.

I loved the new-to-me ones as much as I loved the familiar Katy and Mike Mulligan books, and can’t wait to share them with my son. One of the things I love about these books is that Burton’s style is very distinctive, but also very different for each book. Mike Mulligan is the most like a “standard” picture book, Choo Choo is all black and white, Katy and the Big Snow has pages with intricate borders and maps, and Maybelle has several smaller sketches per page.

I’m so pleased with my own personal Virginia Lee Burton treasury, and would highly recommend these books for the special children in your life as well. Another thing I love about them is that these are books for kids, not “boy books” or “girl books”. Yes, they all feature vehicles and transportation, but all four of the main mechanical characters are female.

Katy and the Big Snow: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8) This would be a great Christmas present!

Katy, a brave and untiring tractor, who pushes a bulldozer in the summer and a snowplow in the winter, makes it possible for the townspeople to do their jobs.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

Since its publication in 1939, Virginia Lee Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel has delighted generations of children. Together, Mike and his red steam shovel named Mary Anne dig the great canals, cut through high mountains, lower the hills, and even make deep holes for skyscrapers. With the advent of more modernized shovels, however, Mary Anne is going to be sold for junk! Thanks to Mike’s fierce loyalty to his friend, she is spared—and guaranteed a long-term job—when the intrepid duo digs a new town hall for the people of Popperville. Burton’s winsome crayon drawings are unforgettable. A classic!

Maybelle the Cable Car: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

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.

Choo Choo: Amazon, Barnes and Noble (Suggested ages: 4-8)

The adventures of a beautiful little locomotive who decided to run away from her humdrum duties.

Have you read any of Virginia Lee Burton’s books? She won a Caldecott Medal for The Little House, but I haven’t read it in the past couple of decades, so I can’t give it the Lector’s Books stamp of approval yet.