The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a very special picture book written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1984. “A picture book?”, you are probably asking now. Well hold on a second! This book is something much more than just that. If you answered my title question with a ´´No´´, looking all confused at your monitor, let me enlighten you on who Harris Burdick is. First of all, he is a fictional character. His story goes like this: One day Mr. Burdick, the prolific writer that he was, went to a publisher called Peter Wenders with a collection of 14 illustrations. After proudly telling him that he has a story for every illustration, as well as many more where those cme from, he was informed by Mr. Wenders that he would love to publish his work. But Mr. Burdick, the tricky thing that he was, did something that would drive any publisher insane. While Mr. Wenders was dreaming of fortune and glory, looking greedily at the 14 illustrations, Mr. Burdick did something very very rude: he never came back. So now Mr. Wenders was left with a sad-looking deadline and 14 illustrations together with their titles and short captions from the texts. But not the stories! Wait a minute! People can make the stories. So many people did their own stories, based on the Burdick illustrations, titles and captions. Some were scary, some were emotional, some perhaps a little dull.
Did this raise your interest? Well then I will spice it all up a little bit by telling you that the author of this amazing book, Chris Van Allsburg, wrote and illustrated Jumanji and The Polar Express. Now you know who wrote this. Now you even know who Harris Burdick is. You are very welcome!
If your answer to my question was a knowledgeable´´ YES! Everyone knows who Harris Burdick is. ‘Doh.´´ ,well then you have to calm yourself ! Do not worry though, this blog entry will not be about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, but about The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. This is a collection of short stories based on the original illustrations. The authors involved in the project are: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate Dr. Camillio, Cory Doctorow,Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire,Walter Dean Myers,Linda Sue Park,Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, and Chris Van Allsburg himself. It is a great collection of short stories that are appropriate for children (most of them, some could be a tiny bit scary or hard to understand; this is of course depending on the age).
The edition I bought is a wonderful one: hardcover, great paper, the illustrations are of high quality. It does look nice in the bookshelf (I will attach some pictures here) as well as in your soul and mind after you read it. As it usually happens, some stories I found to be a bit boring, but most of them had me reading until very late, like I usually did when I was a child. I can only guess that this is in the mind of any author when writing anything, to have their readers hooked on the book. And hooked I was!
Ever since I found out about Harris Burdick and his tricky illustrations, I have been talking about it on every occasion that I had. I talked about it casually with my friends, a lunch that transformed itself in a very animated discussion about literature. We all agreed that is a great way to develop your child’s imagination by taking him/her next to you with some hot chocolate and start making a story together, based on one of the illustrations. It would be something very different from the normal ´´adult reading-child listening´´ scene. Here you have the chance of being be equals, creating something, discussing what your characters will do next. The child develops skills and bonds with you, while you have the chance to do a fun activity while getting to know your child ( will he rescue the poor character, or leave it in the scary wood? Go and find out!).
People that do not necessarily have a connection with literature or creative writing in any way become very excited by this book, and I have been called back with the question ´´Hey, what was that Harry guy’s name again?´´. They want to tell their story. They want to write a story and never show it to anyone. They want to let their imagination flow. Like I said, this is a very special picture book. It’s the picture book YOU want it to be. The possibilities are endless and how many time can we really say that about something?
Independently of what your answer was, I hope I inspired you to make your own stories. If you’d rather read other people’s vision of them, The Chronicles is a great book of short stories nonetheless. In fact, I would suggest you buy that one instead if you are considering purchasing it, since it includes all the illustration on high quality paper, the original story behind the book, as well as one story for every illustration written by very gifted authors. If you would just like to look at the pretty pictures and let your mind wonder, I have a link here that includes all the pictures (and if I am not mistaken some stories based on them). The quality is not great there, so I am thinking of making a gallery of the illustrations and have it on my blog. Tell me if you think that would be a great idea. In fact, go ahead and tell me what you think about the tricky Mr. Burdick and his wonderful illustrations.
Mr. Van Allsburg’s site.