Saturday, August 30, 2008 11:15:10 PM
Posted By Art Baxter
Virginia Lee Burton - August 30, 1909 - October 15, 1968
One of the reasons I started this blog was to highlight some of the artists who influenced me at a young age and are perhaps not so well known. Virginia Lee Burton is not a name you hear much anymore but she wrote and drew a number of notable children's books in the first half of the twentieth century. MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL is perhaps the most famous. Another is the Caldecott Medal winning THE LITTLE HOUSE from 1942.
I got my copy of THE LITTLE HOUSE as part of a WEEKLY READER BOOK CLUB three book package in the early 1960s. The books were hardbacks and probably cost a buck apiece or less. A great price to get books in the hands of kids cheap and get books into homes that probably didn't have many. The books were often of an older vintage and had made their money. It was cool because the books were shipped to your home. This strategy of getting people to buy books worked at least on my sister and me because we've been book buyers ever since.
So, I got my copy of THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. The book is incredibly sophisticated in it's simplicity. It's the story of a small cottage on a hill in the country surrounded by farmland. We see the house in day and night and in the four seasons. The house is always depicted in the same place on the page; slightly below the center. Soon we start to see signs of early twentieth century progress. A new road is put in and cars appear. Then the farms are replaced by tract housing, then tenements and an elevated train. The house becomes abandoned, boarded up and is ultimately surrounded by high-rises. One day, a woman and her family see the house. The woman grew up in the house when she was a young girl. She wants to live in the house again with her family so she has it lifted and moved by truck back out to the country. The story is based on Burton's own experiences.
The story of the Little House in the books's endpapers. R. Crumb's famous A SHORT HISTORY OF AMERICA resembles it. Ironically, today is also Crumb's birthday (August 30, 1943).