Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Primary Sources

The past few days have been a study in primary sources for me. I have had the pleasure of two very different experiences -- both related to the world of children's books and their creators. On Saturday I hurried west to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst MA for a celebration of the opening of an exhibit entitled "Those Telling Lines: The Art of Virginia Lee Burton." Virginia Lee Burton's name may not be familiar to all young readers but her books certainly are -- Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, and The Little House among them. Her books were part of my growing up as well as my own kids'; I would not have missed the exhibit, which continues through June 21, 2009.

Burton lived in several places over her lifetime (she was born in Newton MA and spent many young years in Carmel CA) but she settled with her husband George Demetrios, a sculptor, in Gloucester MA where she was a mainstay of the Folly Cove Designers as well as a children's book creator. Those of us at the opening were privileged to hear a distinguished panel reflect on Burton's life and work. The exhibit's curator Barbara Elleman hosted two of Burton's sons, her long-time editor Lee Kingman Natti and Burton's brother, who shared funny and revealing stories about the creative energy and discipline Burton brought to her work from the 1930s to the early 1960s. Elleman gathered together -- for the varied and extensive exhibit -- original pieces of book art from a number of Burton's books. Seeing the rich and detailed paintings (about the size of the finished books) plus preliminary sketches and notes was fascinating. Included too were examples of Burton's textile and other printed pieces, all with the same sweeping flow and integrity of line and design that I so enjoy in her books.

On Monday afternoon, author Avi was a guest at the Brookline Public Library, where a full room of appreciative fans heard him read from the newest book in his Poppy series. The Q & A was lively -- Do you have a last name? How can you write so many books all at the same time? What is your next book? If you were such a bad student, how did you feel encouraged to be a writer? Lawrence School was well-represented by interested students, who had their books autographed as well as being inspired.

So, I had the fun of being energized by two kinds of primary sources: the compelling original artwork of Virginia Lee Burton and the real person of Avi. This blog entry is now a secondary source of information about these happenings. You can learn even more about the exhibit at the Carle from its website, and about Avi and his work from his website!