It snowed all day Sunday. I can’t remember the last time that happened where I live. Of course the temperature hovered right around freezing, so not much stuck. Our big snow didn’t need a Katy.
Katy, of Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow, is unequivocally female. She is “a beautiful red crawler tractor.” She is “very big and very strong.” The highway department sings her praises: “Nothing can stop her.”
I grew up with two of Burton’s books: The Little House, which won the Caldecott, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (the steam shovel’s name is Mary Anne). Like Mary Anne, Katy is a powerful piece of equipment. But she has no Mike Mulligan to drive her. She doesn’t appear to need him.
But everyone in the town needs Katy. When she cries, “Follow me,” the police, the postmaster, the telephone company, the electric company, the superintendent of the water department, the doctor, the fire chief, and a pilot all follow her. She’s a mechanical community organizer.
Every page of Burton’s book features intricate details of the City of Geoppolis, from specific vehicles, to signage, to maps. The clouds are a little plain, but who cares when there are drawings of twenty-three different highway department trucks.
Burton’s illustrations are for kids who want a lot going on. A documentary about her titled A Sense of Place said that if she read one of her books to her two sons and they got bored, she went back to the drawing table and added action. The illustrator to whom I might compare Burton is Richard Scarry, for her level of detail. But his worlds are inhabited by animals who stand in for people. Burton’s world is populated with people — tiny people in perfect period attire. Her buildings have eyes and her machines have heart. Everything is alive.
And let’s be honest: Don’t we sometimes refer to our beloved inanimate objects as living creatures? I call our little white pickup truck Creampuff because the guy at the oil change place once asked me, “How much you want for this creampuff?” Before we take Creampuff on a big trip, I pat her on the dashboard and tell her she’s a good girl.
Please tell me I am not the only person who does something like this.
My favorite spread in Katy’s story shows the whole of what she plowed, from an aerial view. Her hard work makes a bow, as if her work is her gift to the city and its citizens. She’s a critical part of making this town run. The doctor can’t get patients to the hospital without Katy. The firefighters can’t put out fires without Katy. Planes can’t land and mail can’t be delivered and people can’t live their daily lives unless she does her part.
In every town and city and chicken farm across this country, we need each other, and we need our Katys. Sometimes we don’t know how much we are connected until a big snow opens our eyes.
Next Month’s Selection
Join us for the next Children’s Book Club on Friday, February 12. We’ll read Hello Numbers! What Can You Do? An Adventure Beyond Counting by Edmund Harriss and Houston Hughes, illustrated by Brian Rea. Bring your imagination and a desire to make new number friends!
“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist