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Virginia Lee Burton Collection

Identifier: CLRC-10

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection consists of original watercolor illustrations for the award-winning children's book The Little House, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. The collection also contains tempera studies for Life Story, two small watercolor pieces of Maybelle the Cable Car, linoleum printed Christmas cards, a print of the art from the endpapers of The Emperor's New Clothes, and one oversize textile fabric with a linoleum print design designed by Burton as part of the Folly Cove Designers collective.


  • circa 1942-1962


Conditions Governing Access

Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

Biographical Sketch

Virginia Lee Burton was born August 30, 1909 in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. She studied at the California School of Fine Arts and the Boston Museum School. In the 1930s, Virginia Lee Burton began writing and illustrating children's picture books, as well as illustrating the works of other authors. Her first book, Choo Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away, was published in 1937. The book told the story of a little engine who decides to run away and see the world and was told in direct and "rhythmic" style with simple illustrations, a style that was to become a trademark of Ms. Burton's. The story also emphasizes theme that were also to become part of many of Ms. Burton's works for children: the machine as "heroine" and the importance of security and stability in everyone's life, along with the attainment of a "happy ending." These themes would recur in Ms. Burton's best known works, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Katy and the Big Snow, whose simple and direct text and illustrations provided children with a plot and characters they could identify with. Ms. Burton persued these themes again in her Caldecott Award winner The Little House (1942) that used repetition and rhythm to tell the story of a little house's life and introduce children to such concepts as the seasons, time, and change, with an ultimately reassuring happy ending. Throughout her career, Ms. Burton's books were praised by critics for their simplicity and directness that made them easy for children to comprehend and their subtle messages of everyone's need for security, stability and happiness in life. Virginia Lee Burton continued to write and illustrate picture books throughout the 1950s and 1960s, until her death on October 15, 1968. Burton was also founder of the Folly Cove Designers, a textile collective in Cape Ann, MA which created block-printed fabric designs.


.5 Cubic Feet (1 flat box)

Language of Materials



The Virginia Lee Burton Collection contains the original watercolor illustrations for The Little House, as well as some additional items of art and one printed textile.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Little House art was donated by Virginia Lee Burton's sons Aristides and Michael Demetrios.

Related Materials

Additional collections of Virginia Lee Burton's materials are located at the University of Oregon and the Free Library of Philadelphia.


Virginia Lee Burton Collection, circa 1942-1962
Nancy Larsen
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Children's Literature Research Collections Collecting Area

Suite 113, Elmer L. Andersen Library