A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Sesyle Joslin (What Do You Say, Dear?), Laurent de Brunhoff (Babar series), Helen Craig (Angelina Ballerina), and Donald Crews (Freight Train).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), Frankenstein, and John Gunther (1901-1970), Death Be Not Proud.
- Happy birthday Melbourne, Australia, founded in 1835. Read The Lost Day by Judith Clarke.
- Thurgood Marshall is confirmed as the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States on this day in 1967. Read A Picture Book of Thurgood Marshall by David A. Adler, illustrated by Robert Casilla.
- In 1984 the Space Shuttle Discovery takes off on its maiden voyage. Read Onboard the Space Shuttle by Ray Spangenburg, illustrated by Kit Moser.
Her sons called her â€śGinnee.â€ť Every now and then, she might be, â€śOh, Mom,â€ť but she seemed, even in childhood, their best friend. And because of them, she became the best friend, or author, for millions of boys and girls over the years. Today we celebrate theÂ birthday of an artist who created not only one classic, but two.
Born into a cultured family in Newton, Massachusetts, Virginia Lee Burton could draw, write, and dance with equal skill. She favored the latter as a career; in fact, she was headed to New York to pursue that dream when her father broke his leg. She stayed to help him recover, a fortuitous moment for childrenâ€™s books.
Her sons Aris and Michael have always delighted in telling the story of how their parents met. Wanting to take art classes from the renowned sculptor George Demetrios, Ginnee showed up one day at his door. He took one look at this New England beautyâ€”and fainted. Shortly after that, they got married.
While working as a newspaper artist, she drafted a book for children, â€śThe Trials and Trails of Jonnifer Lint,â€ť the story of a dust bunny who had some interesting adventures. Editors turned it down in droves, but Lovell Thompson of Houghton Mifflin told her that he loved her drawing and thought she needed to work on finding material that children would enjoy. Ginnee read â€śJonnifer Lintâ€ť to Aris, who promptly fell asleep. Then she asked herself, â€śWhat kinds of books would keep Aris awake?â€ť Well, he liked trains, and snow plows, and steam shovels. By focusing on the needs of her sons, Virginia Lee Burton invented one picture book after another that would keep them, and other children, eagerly following the story.
Burtonâ€™s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House, remain two of the most cherished books of the twentieth century. In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Childrenâ€™s Book, comedian Jay Leno quotes a line that he has remembered from childhood: â€śThe more people came, the faster Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne dug.â€ťÂ Writer Anne Tyler found in The Little House â€śa snapshot that showed me how the world worked: how the years flowed by and people altered and nothing could ever stay the same.â€ť
To celebrate Burtonâ€™s birthday I would suggest picking up her last book, Life Story. While not as well known as her two classics, it provides a stellar example of her genius. In this book Burton presents the history of the world in seventy-seven pages, a stunning display of her artistic and literary talents. She moves through the creation of the world to the age of dinosaurs to modern times with finesse, presenting an amazing amount of information along the way. The book ends with these optimistic and empowering words. â€śAnd now it is your Life Story and it is you who play the leading role. The stage is set, the time is now, and the place wherever you are.â€ť
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to meet Virginia Lee Burton, but I spent long and happy hours with her sons Aris and Mike Demetrios. HappyÂ birthday Ginneeâ€”and thank you for your life, your sons, and those incredible books.
Hereâ€™s a page from Life Story:
Originally posted August 30, 2011. Updated for .