Friday, February 10, 2012

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

In 1984, children's book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg published a small collection of unusual drawings supposedly given to him by the children's book acquisition editor Peter Wenders, whose publishing firm is oddly not named. Van Allsburg said in the introduction that Wenders said that a man name Harris Burdick brought the drawings to Wenders in 1954, promised more drawings and stories, but then disappeared. All efforts to locate the secretive illustrator were unsuccessful. In the meantime, Wenders children had all written stories to go with the drawings. Around 1983, Wenders showed these and the drawings to Van Allsburg who thought other children would also enjoy writing stories to explain them. So The Mysteries of Harris Burdick became a frequently used book by writing teachers in schools across the country.

In 1993, novelist Stephen King got into the act and wrote a story for one of the pictures, that of a three-story house rising above its lawn like a rocket just launching. Perhaps this was the seed from which Van Allsburg's new book sprouted. King is joined by thirteen other famous authors, each contributing a story for the drawing of their choice. Sherman Alexie, Jules Feifer, and Kate DiCamillo are among the esteemed group. In late 2011, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick was published.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick has been popular, so I just got it from my library last week, and it leapt to the top of my bookstack. Once I did start, I tried to space reading out a little to savor them, but I finished quickly anyway thoroughly satisfied. I especially liked "The Harp" by Linda Sue Park, "The Seven Chairs" by Lois Lowry, and "Oscar and Alphonse" by Van Allsburg. Also, "Just Desert" by M. T. Anderson, which describes exactly the fear that I used to have when I was about twelve.

Though described as a children's book, you are never too old to enjoy the good stories in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 195p. ISBN 9780547548104.

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