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Exclusive Cover Reveal: Big Machines: The Story of Virgina Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco


I dig the work of Virginia Lee Burton (or, as I prefer, The Notorious VLB). I especially love The Little House (subtly one of the most experimental Caldecott winners of all time, in my opinion), but I celebrate her entire catalog.

Now Sherri Duskey Rinker (Goodnight Construction Site) and John Rocco (Blackout!) have teamed up to tell the story of how Burton created some of the most enduring anthropomorphized characters in literature – Mike Mulligan, Katy, Maybelle, you know the crew. It arrives September 5th, 2017 and today we have a first look at the cover.

But first, I asked Sherri Duskey Rinker to say a few words about how the project came to be:

I’ve loved Jinnee Burton since I was four years old and completely enraptured by The Little House. It is, of course, at its core, a “No Place Like Home,” story — minus the terrifying and nightmare-inducing cackling green witch and flying monkeys. But, there are messages about progress and caring for old, neglected things that I still hold in my heart and daily life (as my husband and I spent 15 years restoring a dilapidated storefront, and I frequently “save” old furniture and oil paintings from the forgotten corners of dusty antique stores).

I love precious little details, even today. I certainly loved them then — and spent hours studying them: Ms. Burton’s art is filled with treasures if you stop to look: dogs running through the countryside, children playing, lovely ladies with parasols and fancy dresses and commuters of all sizes and sorts bustling through a city.

Later, as the mom of two boys, my passion for Virginia Burton extended to Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel, Katy, Choo Choo and Maybelle. By that time, I could truly appreciate Burton as a writer and artist, with a seemingly endless number of creative styles at her disposal, each perfectly selected to depict her story.

When I became an author, writing a book that could SOMEHOW pay tribute to Virginia Burton — amazing for her time, and equally amazing regardless — became a passionate goal. And, suddenly, one day, after dozens of stops and starts, the book came together in the voice that felt right. And then, the most perfect publishing house — BURTON’S — agreed to give it a home, with an editor that adores Jinnee as much as I do, and, lo-and-behold — John Rocco, our first-choice illustrator (who my oldest son and I have admired FOREVER) agreed to take the project and bring more vision and magic than I could have ever imagined…

Fast forward and, unbelievably, all of us: John Rocco, Jinnee’s oldest son, Aris Demetrios, and I —are sitting together at a beautiful estate in California, laughing and telling stories, as we go through boxes and BOXES of Jinnee’s work and archives. Together. Like family. All bonded together by our love for one amazing woman.

This is a dream-turned-reality and the journey of a lifetime.


Now how about that cover? Here it is:


A bit more about the book, from the publisher:

Everyone in Folly Cove knows Virginia Lee as Jinnee. With her magical wands she can draw whatever she imagines, but for 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. `In this this loving tribute to Virginia Lee Burton, New York Times bestselling creators Sherri Duskey Rinker and John Rocco pay homage to the storied life of one of the most beloved creators in children’s literature.

Thank you Karen Walsh for making this post happen.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Wow! Look at that realism. That’s sort of a departure for Rocco, but it could really work. Pretty sure this is his first nonfiction picture book. Very much looking forward to this one.

  2. Thanks Travis! What a nice monday morning surprise!

  3. Thanks so much, Travis. This project holds my heart and means the world to me. I’m so grateful to you for being the first to show its face to the world. ?

  4. This looks wonderful. Another book you may enjoy isVirginia Lee Burton : a life in art by Barbara Elleman.

  5. As you may imagine, I am a huge Virginia Lee Burton fan! I cannot wait to read this new book about her life. Thank you for making it.