Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Big Machines' Celebrates Beloved Children's Book Author & Illustrator

cover-jinnee-handlettering3_orig.jpg
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Virginia Lee Burton wrote and illustrated picture books during the first half of the 20th century. From Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel to Katy and the Big Snow, her books are still staples of classroom and home libraries around the world today.

But it’s Burton herself who is at the center of a new picture book, by contemporary writer Sherry Rinker and illustrator John Rocco, called, Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton.

Rinker says that  The Little House was the singular, most memorable book of her childhood. She recalls reading that book to a school audience for one of her events, and when she finished Burton's story the children applauded. "This is a book that was written 75 years ago, so what more can you say about the quality of her storytelling?"

Rocco says that he appreciates Burton more now after researching and studying her work. "It really opened my eyes to what an amazing designer she was of books," he says. "And as someone whose been making books for the last ten years, I have a whole new appreciation for the thought process behind laying out text and image."

"I wanted a story that sort of captured the essence of (Virginia Lee Burton's) magic and her ability to tell stories - stories that were very much inspired by her children." - Sherry Rinker

Rinker says she first had the idea of paying tribute to Virginia Lee Burton once she started her career as a children's book author.

"I really wanted to pay tribute and homage in some way to this woman that I really felt had been just so ahead of her time and so amazing," she explains. "I wanted a story that sort of captured the essence of her magic and her ability to tell stories - stories that were very much inspired by her children."

Rocco says that dancing the fine line between paying tribute and imitating Burton's drawing style was a challenge. "Illustrating a book about a children's book illustrator - and (an illustrator) as amazing as Burton - those were big shoes to fill. So there was a lot of thought put into how I was going to portray her creating her work on the page."

Rinker says "she couldn't have been more pleased" with how Rocco's illustrations bring her manuscript to life and how their book contributes to Burton's legacy.

And, Rocco says that part of the magic of making children's book is the power to introduce children to other works. "Whenever you have a book that can turn kids on to other books, especially ones that are so amazing as Virginia Lee Burton's, I think you've got a great thing."

Stay Connected
Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.