Burton, Virginia Lee (1909–1968)

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Burton, Virginia Lee (1909–1968)

American writer and illustrator of children's books. Born in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, on August 30, 1909; died in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 15, 1968; daughter of Alfred E. Burton (first dean of Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Lena Dalkeith (Yates) Burton; half-sister of Harold H. Burton, Justice of the Supreme Court; studied ballet privately in San Francisco, California; studied art at California School of Fine Arts and Boston Museum School; married George Demetrios (a sculptor and teacher), March 28, 1931; children: two sons.

Selected writings (all self-illustrated):

Choo Choo (1935); Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (1939); Calico, the Wonder Horse (1941); The Little House (1942); Katy and the Big Show (1943); Maybelle, the Cable Car (1952); Life Story (1962).

Illustrator: Arna Bontemps and Jack Conroy's Fast Sooner Hound (1942); Anne Malcolmson's Song of Robin Hood (1947); Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes (1949).

Raised in Sonora, California, from the age of seven, Virginia Lee Burton wavered between a career in dance and art before finding her niche as a prize-winning illustrator of children's books. After a stint as a sketch artist for the Boston Transcript, Burton created her first self-illustrated children's book, Choo Choo (1935), inspired by an engine on the Gloucester Branch of the Boston & Maine line. This was followed with a series of books that she tested out on her own two sons, adjusting the stories to the boys' interest or lack thereof. In 1943, Burton's The Little House won the Caldecott Medal for the best-illustrated book for children. Her books were so popular that they remained in print after her death in 1968.

When working on a book, Burton created her illustrations first, pinning the sketched pages in sequence around the walls of her studio and adding text only after the final drawings were completed. In an article in Horn Book, Lee Kingman discussed Burton's process and her unrelenting revisions: "Suddenly, looking up, she might see, in a page supposedly completed days ago, an area or a line she knew needed changing. To do one book, she filled wastebaskets full of what other artists might well have considered satisfactory work." In addition to her own books, Burton illustrated stories by other authors. During the 1940s, she taught graphic design and organized the Folly Cove Designers, who became known for their linoleum block prints.

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Burton, Virginia Lee (1909–1968)

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