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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The old library in
Albany, Oregon
When I was little, I remember my sister taking me to the old Albany Public Library.  It was one of those Carnegie libraries that were funded throughout the country in the early part of the century.  I haven't been back for oh so many years, and am not sure that it's even a library anymore.  But, I do recall it's charming old library feeling - that sort of hushed, comfortable safe feeling that libraries have always had for me.  What on earth can be more peaceful than being surrounded, in almost total silence, by endless shelves of books? 

Several years later, and after we moved to Eugene, I would spend long summer afternoons at the University of Oregon library.  My mom would drop me off at noon and pick me up at five...  funny, I wouldn't do that with my ten year old, but I'm glad she did.  I spent hours and hours reading, looking at books, listening to music - it's still a favorite place.

Virginia Lee Burton

Recently, I learned that the University holds some of the work of children's author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton.  Author of Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, Maybelle the Cable Car and, one of my absolutely favorite books of all time, The Little House.  So, how does this all come together?  It was at the Albany Public Library that I first found this book.  Small and square, I remember it well.  But it was years before I found it again.  Being so small at the time, I couldn't think of the name of the book, I could only remember some of the pictures...  The little pink house, the trees that changed color with the seasons, the saga of the house's cycle of being loved and cared for and, after the city has encroached upon it entirely, being condemned.  Of course, there is a happy ending, but I won't give it away here.

Virginia Lee Burton's stories are charming, and they tend to show things that were once useful becoming somewhat redundant, only to prevail at the end when the chips are down.  Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel save the day!  And that little house shows how progress isn't always positive.

It's not always the case that a writer is equally good as an illustrator, but Burton is.  Her drawings are lively and clear, colorful and interesting - in other words perfectly entertaining for young readers, or listeners.  They are also delightfully old-fashioned.  Today's computer generated illustrations still require a lot of creativity, but they lose that hand-made touch that you find with illustrators like Burton.  That's not to say that we have a lack of good artists working today - look at any of Kevin Henkes marvelous books for children and you will find yourself completely charmed.  In fact, both Virginia Burton and Kevin Henkes have written books that, while for kids, are enjoyed equally by adults.

The sun shines on the little house...

One of the fun things about being a parent is the opportunity to share fabulous books with your children.  Not only do you get the chance to interest them in a lifetime of reading, but you get to enjoy your own favorites over and over again.  I love books, and that includes books for children.  The endless creativity, clever humor and wacky premises make reading fun for adults and kids alike, and inspires us to spend more time together, curled up with a good book!

Some  other Virginia Lee Burton books...

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