Tag Archive | Virginia Lee Burton

Cowboy Bunnies by Christine Loomis

     Cowboy bunnies
     Wake up early
     Ride their ponies
     Hurly Burly.

It’s a rhyming children’s book about the life of a cowboy (bunny). They “Start at sunup, work all day roping cows, tossing hay.” And each action gets a colorful woodprint drawing – of cows, horses, and the bandana-wearing bunnies. The drawings are eye-catching, filled with bold primary colors, and the simplified shapes just make them that much more intriguing for a child, especially a very young one. You can imagine them thinking, What’s the brown? It’s a bunny! What’s the yellow? Hay!

     Mending fences
     on the ridges
     Jumping gullies
     Fixing bridges

The words are fun and enthusiastic – and of course, they rhyme. But within two pages, the bunnies are eating lunch – steaks and jellies head for their bellies.

It’s not just the illustrations that are simple and abstract. The book scatters them across the pages – rows of tall drawings, on a white background with smears of brown. The text skips around to different parts of the pages.

The bunnies don’t have names – but they have a lot of fun. At the watering hole, they “Chase each other, sit and doze, roll their pants up, dip their toes.” My favorite drawing shows the bunnies riding up a hill. There’s orange clouds in the sky, and a brown trail through a yellow field. But if you look closely, the enormous bunnies are actually riding hobby horses up the hill. Wait a minute – are they real cowboys? Or are these bunnies just playing around? Everything seems real enough, so I don’t think the author is sending

a hidden message about the power of imagination. If anything, it’s a testament to her own imagination. The bunnies are cowboys – they just are – and they’ve also turned hobby horses magically into real horses.

     Cowboy bunnies
     big and little
     pick a banjo
     play a fiddle.

One of the bunnies sings, with his eyes closed proudly and a wide-open mouth. There’s a cross-hatch pattern on his red shirt, and he’s holding a banjo, squatting in a cowboy stance. But there’s seven different pictures on the two-page spread, showing the other bunnies playing the fife, the clarinet, and even a saxophone. Go, bunnies, go!

     Sing a lonesome
     Cowboy tune
     Underneath a
     Silver moon.

The nighttime photos are the most impressive. The sleepy-eyed bunnies are seeing the world in strange colors. The bunnies are lavendar and blue, and their horses are purple, white, and even splotched with red.

     Stay up late
     Rub their eyes
     Home they go
     With sleepy sighs.

Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

“Katy and the Big Snow” is a classic children’s story from 1943. It had been five years since Virginia Lee Burton wrote “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” Now she turned her attention to another piece of talking machinery — this time, a big red snow plow.

Katy is “a beautiful red crawler tractor” that belongs to the city of Geoppolis — and this book shows her in several detailed drawings. When the city is snowed in, there’s a two-page spread that’s almost completely white — representing snow — with Katy appearing in the upper-left corner beginning to clear out a path. Gradually more parts of the city start to appear on the pages, as though Katy has released them from enormous white snow drifts. That’s the book’s big surprise — watching the parts of the city appear from the big blanket of snow.

Burton draws the buildings small, so she’ll have room for the entire city, and the simple illustrations are busy and intricate. One page has 26 different vehicles drawn in the margins around the center picture’s frame — and the next page has 32 different drawings of the red snowplow in action! There’s one two-page spread that has no text at all, just a map of the city of Geoppolis. (It labels 30 different buildings, including the schools, farms, city services, and local businesses.) Because Burton drew the buildings small, she has room for the entire city, and she users only a limited number of colors in the pictures. Unfortunately, I think this robs the book of some of its magic…

I remember being frustrated by this book when I read it as a child. It seemed like there were too many pictures — and the text didn’t really tell a story. It just offered random facts about the city’s highway municipal department. (“When winter came they put snow plows on the big trucks and changed Katy’s bulldozer for her snow plow….”) Some of the dialogue actually comes from the Superintendent of the Water Department. Katy plows out the city — then goes home. The end.

Here’s an interesting thought about this book — it was written in the middle of World War II. America was rationing foods, fuels, rubber, and even shoes. Franklin Roosevelt had expanded the size of the government, and now men were leaving their families to serve in a larger national effort. Great efforts were made to assure Americans that we were all in this thing together.

And when the city was covered by an enormous blanket of snow — Katy the big red snow plow came and plowed everybody out.