Sunday, May 12, 2013

Maybelle the Cable Car, by Virginia Lee Burton

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

In the city of San Francisco, Maybelle is a street car at risk of losing her job to more modern forms of transport. Writer and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton in this delightful story shows how people power can bring about positive change.

Maybelle is a San Francisco cable car who spends her day taking passengers about her hilly city. She has a Gripman and a Conductor who help her brake and collect fares. At night Maybelle sleeps in a great big green barn with her sister cable cars and they reminisce about the good old times in the city when everyone knew everyone else and life moved at a gentler pace. But progress has brought many changes, with faster forms of transport like buses. The city’s cable cars have been neglected and are in need of a coat of paint.

Soon word gets out that the City Fathers intend to get rid of the cable cars. This prompts a group of concerned citizens to come together and call a meeting at the Public Library to save the cable cars. They call themselves The Citizens Committee to Save Cable Cars. Eventually the issue goes to a vote, and after much petitioning, The Citizens Committee to Save Cable Cars is successful. Everyone celebrates and Maybelle is covered with flowers!

The Fun of Riding in a Cable Car

I must confess to finding myself especially fond of this book as I was once a tram conductor myself. Virginia Lee Burton’s story catches the fun and energy that comes from whizzing along the tracks in a tram (or cable car), the buzz of passengers and the bustle of city life. The pictures illustrating the story are delightful and the theme of democratic action has a cheerful ending that sends a positive message.

A True Story

Virginia Lee Burton, (1909 – 1968) was an American children’s writer and illustrator probably best known for her classic Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. She lived in San Francisco in her early days as a student and knew the city well. Maybelle the Cable Car can be considered a true story as it recounts the real life campaign to save San Francisco’s cable cars. Virginia Lee Burton dedicated her book to Mrs Hans Klussman who fought to save the cable cars from extinction

Interesting Facts

The first cable car appeared in San Francisco in 1873. It was Invented by Andrew S. Hallidie because he didn’t like seeing horses struggling up steep hills that were slippery when wet, frequently causing them to slip over.

Maybelle the Cable Car, by Virginia Lee Burton. Published by Houghton Mifflin. ISBN: 9780395840030.  $12.95