Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Making Magic For Her Boys

If you are fortunate, like I was, you grow up hearing stories.  Your parents tell you of their adventures as children, teenagers and adults before you became part of their world.  They speak of these things to create a familial bond with you; to give you an understanding of your heritage.  These tales are also meant to help you become the best person you can be; to assist you in realizing your potential.

There are other stories less truthful, born in their imaginations.  These transform hours, some of boredom and illness, into memories never forgotten.  There was an extraordinary woman, a mother, whose stories still hold their original magic today.  Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel And Friends Came To Life) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 5, 2017) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by John Rocco reveals how this woman used her remarkable gifts to bring joy to her two sons and other daughters and sons for generations to come.

This is Virginia Lee, but everyone in seaside
Folly Cove simply calls her Jinnee.
Anyone who meets Jinnee
will tell you that
she is quite

She has a way to coax colorful beauty into being in her gardens.  Animals, domestic and wild, see in her a friend they can trust.  When she dances, her shape seems to shift into whatever she wants us to see.  Best of all, when she draws, a spell is cast on all who view her work.

For her two boys, Aris and Michael, she pictures what they love best,


With her hands she brings to life a powerful train, a hardworking steam shovel, a tireless snow plow and determined cable car.  These machines' stories leave readers with timeless truths formed by their adventures and the work they do.

When Jinnee begins to draw a little pink house sitting on a hill with daisies and apple trees, Aris and Michael can see she has definitely strayed from what they enjoy most.  She asks them to be patient.  This little house is to be a part of an even greater adventure; one filled with the growth of a city and the machines who are a part of that growth.

In this book she shows the two boys how vehicles offer salvation to the little pink house.  She knows her two favorite readers and what they want and need.  She knew all of us too.

With each reading of this title penned by Sherri Duskey Rinker my appreciation for the accomplishments of Virginia Lee Burton grows.  The approach of beginning Virginia's story after her two boys are born brings a special connection to the intended audience.  Reminding readers of the admiration felt by the members of the Folly Cove community for her is a refreshing introduction to the magic of her talents as an artist and a writer.  Viewing her drawing and painting tools as a wand is genius.

When Sherri Duskey Rinker describes how Virginia Lee Burton creates the train, Choo Choo, the steam shovel, Mary Anne, for Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel, the crawler tractor turned snow plow for Katy And The Big Snow, and Maybelle for Maybelle The Cable Car it's like we are in the studio with her as she shapes and forms these characters.  With Sherri's words Aris and Michael are participants in each of these big machines' tales.  We watch and hold our breaths along with the boys as we see what is happening to the little pink house. Here are two passages.

And right before Michael's eyes:
A bucket loads and lifts, clearing
earth to make canals, cutting
through mountains for
railways, leveling land for
highways and runways,
digging deep into the
earth, making 

Smoke blows from her stack.
There, loud and proud, strong
and steely, always hard at work:
Mary Anne!

The first thing, the very first thing, I did upon opening the matching dust jacket and book case was study those champion characters from children's literature recalling their stories read and shared repeatedly over the years.  When my eyes moved to the left, on the back, there was the little pink house, the city grown up behind her and on both sides.  The subway moved beneath her and the train ran around her.  Smoke filled the sky as the charcoal like images shown are washed from top to bottom in a shade of blue to green and then yellow.

The opening and closing endpapers are in pale yellow with light blue images.  Gears are stenciled around matching elements on the left and right.  It's the little house with the apple trees and daisies on the little hill.  In a circle around it are the cable car, crawler tractor, steam shovel, train and the truck in a repeating pattern.  Beneath the text on the title page, John Rocco places each of the big machines and the little pink house with the truck pulling it back home.

Rendered in watercolor, colored pencil, and digital media the full-color illustrations truly take us back in time.  John Rocco presents us with large two-page pictures and single-page images flowing and golden, many of them moving from the left into the right.  To show us the artistic process of Virginia Lee Burton he gives us a bird's eye view of her working from farther away to very close through a series of six small pictures on a single page.  As she draws the characters for her books, it's a different technique for the presentation of each one but the key factor is the two boys are always a part of the visual narrative.  The meticulous research of John Rocco is clearly evident.

I have many, many favorite pictures.  One of my favorites is of the creation of Katy.  On the left Virginia is first standing in front of a blank page.  She then sketches outlines of a crawler tractor on several sheets of paper.  They are filled in with red.  Then a blade appears.  Along the bottom on the left the boys dressed for winter weather are following Virginia, now wearing boots, as she puts on a winter coat.  They walk through snow and falling snow to the right.  Katy is there in front of them, larger than life.  She is framed with blue swirls reminiscent of the cover on the original book.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton (How Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel And Friends Came To Life) written by Sherri Duskey Rinker with illustrations by John Rocco is a book to cherish.  You will read it over and over again.  You will hardly be able to wait to share it with others.  And you will get copies of the Virginia Lee Burton books to read at least once more, to share with first time readers or to add to your collection.  You need to have this book in your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco and their other work, please visit their websites (and Sherri's blog) by following the links attached to their names.  Here is the link to a special publisher website for this book. Travis Jonker, teacher librarian and blogger (among other wonderful accomplishments) at 100 Scope Notes, reveals the cover for this title.  Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco are interviewed at The Horn Book about this title.  Sherri Duskey Rinker is interviewed at KidLit 411, Where The Board Books Are and HENRYHERZ.COMJohn Rocco is featured about this title at the BookPage and at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Enjoy the video below.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the other titles selected this week by bloggers participating in the 2017 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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