Review of Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton
by Sherri Duskey Rinker; illus. by John Rocco
Primary    Houghton    48 pp.
9/17    978-0-544-71557-8    $17.99

Beloved author-illustrator Virginia Lee Burton receives a picture-book biography treatment, but not the standard childhood-to-adulthood story. We meet Virginia, known as Jinnee, when she is already the mother of two boys who love trains and trucks. Rinker explores the dichotomy between Jinnee’s pixie-like nature (we see her dancing and talking to small animals) and the boldly rendered illustrations in her books about trucks, trains, and other machinery (e.g., Choo Choo, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel), created to entertain her sons. The text and art are both at their best when Jinnee is illustrating, creating lifelike scenes out of blank paper and charcoal. While her sons watch her ideas come to life, we understand their excitement. Rocco’s paintings of the artist at work and his replicas of her illustrations are masterful. Other scenes depicting Jinnee’s “magical” side feel forced and somewhat static. But could anyone truly do justice to the unique Virginia Lee Burton? In the end, this book provides an intriguing, loving introduction to a picture-book icon. An afterword with photos reveals more about Burton’s life and art.

From the November/December 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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