Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton

by Sherri Duskey Rinker (Author) John Rocco (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

In this loving tribute to Virginia Lee Burton, the New York Times best-selling creators Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco pay homage to the storied life of one of the most beloved creators in children's literature.

Everyone in Folly Cove knows Virginia Lee as "Jinnee." With her magical wands she can draw whatever she imagines, but for her sons Aris and Michael, she draws the most wonderful characters of all: BIG MACHINES with friendly names like Mary Anne, Maybelle, and Katy. Her marvelous magical wands can make anything move--even a cheerful Little House.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Alive, bursting with color and action, this volume introduces Virginia Lee Burton to a new generation of big machine enthusiasts.


Starred Review
[E]nchanting portrayal of Virginia Lee Burton . . . Prime material for classroom author studies and a lively, imaginative introduction to Burton's classic picture books.

Horn Book Magazine

Rocco's paintings of the artist at work and his replicas of her illustrations are masterful... [Big Machines] provides an intriguing, loving introduction to a picture-book icon.

Publishers Weekly

Rinker and Rocco reveal how Virginia Lee Burton transformed her children's love of powerful vehicles into a string of picture books, including her Caldecott Medal-winning The Little House. Burton's study of art and dance are on full display in Rocco's mixed-media illustrations, her movements balletic as she lays the groundwork for her illustrations in pencil. Rinker's exuberant text focuses on process ("First there is jump paper: white, white, white.... With a whoosh of black and some strokes of red and green, Aris and Michael meet... Katy!") and on the joy Burton's creations brought to her sons. Burton's fans will enjoy teasing out the visual references to her work, both in Rocco's use of color and form (including several circular vignettes), while feeling intimately connected to how these treasured stories came into being. Ages 4-7. Illustrator's agent: Rob Weisbach, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (Sept.)

Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

PreS-Gr 2--A coal engine, a steam shovel, a snowplow, and a cable car are the big machines that Rinker and Rocco celebrate in the story of Virginia Lee Burton's creative life. Burton's young children, Aris and Michael, clamored for stories about big machines, so "Jinnee" responded by creating Choo Choo, Mary Anne, and the others. For readers not familiar with the stories, Rinker summarizes each over a few pages, imagining Aris and Michael's reactions. Rinker also introduces an element of wonder in the narration, describing Burton as magical and her artists' tools as wands. Rocco's illustrations help convey the magic of creation: to complete the top of Choo Choo's cab, he shows Burton climbing up the ladder that she has just sketched so that she can reach. Rocco also pays tribute to Burton's early passion for ballet by depicting her creation of the big machines as graceful full-body gestures. Elements of Burton's illustrations and attention to design appear in Rocco's art: the puff of smoke above Choo Choo's smokestack contains a visual summary of the engine's adventures. This is a lovely tribute, both to a marvelous creator of books for children as well as the creative process itself. VERDICT Recommended for most picture book biography collections.--Jennifer Costa, Cambridge Public Library, MA

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Anyone even passingly familiar with the Burton canon will appreciate Rocco's close emulation of Burton's work; he goes a step further, though, by casting Jinnee and the boys as players in a story done in her visual style." —Bulletin

Sherri Duskey Rinker
Sherri Duskey Rinker is the number one best-selling author of Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site and Steam Train, Dream Train.

John Rocco? is the number one New York Times best-selling author and illustrator of many acclaimed books for children, includingBlizzard, and Blackout, a winner of the Caldecott Honor.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Clarion Books
Publication date
September 20, 2017
BISAC categories
JNF007030 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Literary
JNF007120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Women
Library of Congress categories
United States
20th century
Authors, American
Children's stories
Illustration of books
Women illustrators
Burton, Virginia Lee

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