Celebrating Burton’s Birthday

 I would like to pay tribute to the late Virginia Lee Burton, who was born on this day, August 30, 1909.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel  (first published in 1939)

I’m sure many of us cheered for Mike and his hardworking steam shovel, Mary Anne–or fell in love with The Little House who sat on a hill in the country.

As a children’s book writer, I still read these stories over and over. 

How was Burton able to create such memorable characaters etched forever in history –still loved just as much by today’s young reader?  

What can I learn from these classics?

After reading some of Burton’s thoughts about the writing process, two points in her process really stood out for me:

  • She drew her pictures first.  By relying on the pictures to tell the story, her words were used to compliment instead of compete. 

Virginia Lee Burton was a talented artist and illustrated her own stories.  Unfortunately, for writers like me, this will never happen. 

However, I DO draw out my thoughts.  Though primitive sketches, they help me to SEE the story before the words are ever written.  These pictures will never be shared (I’ll leave the illustrations to the professionals), but my IDEAS help me keep the illustrations the main focus of the PICTURE book, so that the text will do its job of complimenting each page.  

The other point she made that I found to be important was:

  • She wrote with kids in mind.  Her stories were written for her own two sons.  If they were not entertained, then she’d rework and revise to create a story pleasing to her audience. 

Oh, if we would all remember our audience. 

This week, check out one of your favorites by Virginia Lee Burton and notice how the pictures and text work as a complete unit to tell the story. 

If you haven’t introduced these classics to your own young readers, shame on you!  Take a moment to enjoy these stories again, this time with your students or your own children or grandchildren.

 The Little House






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