VIRGINIA LEE BURTON by Barbara Elleman

VIRGINIA LEE BURTON

A Life in Art
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lavishly illustrated biography of the Caldecott Medal–winning author-illustrator is long on discussion of her work and short on life details. The text rather cursorily covers Burton’s childhood and youth, only kicking into high gear after Burton’s marriage to painter and sculptor George Demetrios and their move to Cape Ann in Massachusetts, where they established an idyllic, art-filled household. What follows is a substantial and cogent discussion of Burton’s artistic contributions, emphasizing her innovative integration of design principles into both the art and the text of her children’s books. One chapter is devoted to her community of textile designers, the Folly Cove Designers, which, under her demanding instruction, attracted considerable attention and acclaim in the mid-20th century. Photographs and reproductions of Burton’s work, frequently in full color to illustrate its points, accompany the text. Elleman (Holiday House: The First 50 Years, 2000, etc.) clearly enjoyed a close relationship with her subject’s surviving family—the book is dedicated to Burton’s two sons—and the treatment of her subject is, perhaps as a consequence, chirpy to the point of gushing. “One gets the impression that a special excitement existed wherever she was—an effervescence that enlivened all she touched.” Any negative events in Burton’s life are either swiftly glossed over—the story of her mother’s abandonment of her family or an allusion to marital strife, for instance—or entirely elided, so that the author’s assertion that one of Burton’s enduring themes, “survival through change,” sprang from her own experiences is a little hard to credit. Timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of The Little House, this offering indulges in considerable cheerleading for the publisher it shares with Burton—the name of which appears rather more frequently than seems necessary—and in fulsome coverage of the enduring popularity of Burton’s books. Although one might wish for a little less gushing and a little more discussion of Burton’s influence on subsequent illustrators, the close examination of Burton’s own work makes this a valuable contribution to the literature of children’s literature. (Biography. Adult/professional)

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-00342-8
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2002




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