Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker (review)
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Reviewed by
Rinker, Sherri Duskey Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton; illus. by John Rocco. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 [40p]
ISBN 978-0-544-71557-8 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R 4-8 yrs

Long story short, Burton wrote stories of steam engine and choo choo and snow plow because that’s what her own sons liked, and other children have been enjoying [End Page 33] them ever since. In this picture-book biography, Rinker introduces “Jinnee” Burton as an ebullient mom who could whip up a drawing on command and spin a good tale to go with it, and since sons Michael and Aris were fascinated with Big Machines, Jinnee followed their lead, observing and studying until she mastered their favorite vehicles. Rinker’s narrative is straightforward and at times a tad precious, but Rocco’s illustrations steal the show. 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. Jinnee and sons form a close knit group encircled by a toy train track at their feet and haloed by a cloud and sunburst border; Jinnee dances her way across a double-page spread, drawing a steam engine with charcoal while its smoke stack puffs out an illustration from Choo Choo. The book’s discussion of The Little House is surprisingly poignant, since Michael and Aris cheer the relocation of the damaged pink cottage (“‘That truck is the hero!’ ‘A truck saved the day!’”), and Jinnee realizes they’ve missed the point to her parable of urban encroachment (“Well, of course they see it that way”). An author’s note and a page of photographs are included.

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