Sunday, April 11, 2010

Read This: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Now, here is a children's book some of you may not have seen before--not because it is so terribly obscure, but, for whatever reason, it does not seem to be a book commonly found in the library or in most bookstores. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (perhaps best known for The Polar Express--and also a two-time Caldecott winner), has been one of my very personal favorites seen I first came across a copy many years ago at a discount book store--long before Beeper was even a gleam in Mr Beeper's eye. But it was the very first book I ever purchased for Beeper--while he was still rolling around in my belly, in fact.
The introduction to this book lays the foundation for what is to come (so don't skip reading it), telling of a mysterious series of illustrations, each intended for a different story, that came into the hands of a children's book publisher many years ago--but the author disappeared and so the full story for each illustration was never known.
And this, of course, is where the reader enters--getting to see each of these beautifully realized illustrations, with just one line of text from the story that accompanied it, but told no more...leaving the reader to elaborate upon each curious illustration, deciding what the story is that would have accompanied each picture, had the author and illustrator completed them.
And each of the 14 beautiful black and white illustrations in this book are at once transfixing, imaginative, and a teeny bit eerie.
The world that emerges through these illustrations is full of wonder and magic. It is a place where caterpillars communicate with humans, where stones come skipping back to you across the water, and where little doors appear in your basement and suddenly open.
How can you not be intrigued? How can you not help but imagine what else might have occurred in the story? And if you are me, you cannot help but want to live in the world of these illustrations, where mysteries reveal themselves in the every day.

(While searching the internet for a bit more info about this book, I did discover that Chris Van Allsburg has a website devoted wholly to this book. The site offers a bit more information about the mysterious Burdick, but more importantly, offers a venue for readers to share the stories they might be inspired to create to accompany the haunting illustrations in this book. You can read stories submitted by other readers, or submit your very own!)

8 comments:

Laurie Anne said...

Hi! My daughters class just read this book and the class was given a picture from this book ( the one with the girl in bed with a book)...anyway her story was the best in the class and her teacher is entering her story in a province-wide writing contest :)
She LOVED the book! and highly recommended it because in her words "it's very cool and the pictures are great and let you use your imagination" ( My daughter is 10)
Great post! x

Wendi said...

I LOVE this book - it's my very favorite by Van Allsburg. When I was a bookseller I forced it on every English teacher who came into the store - you can't look at these pictures and NOT start thinking of a story to tell. . .

Erin Mercer said...

My mom's an elementary librarian and this was one of our favorite books when I was kid. I just re-found it as we were going through the books she should keep when she retires this year - it's still just as intriguing as ever! Definitely a keeper!

Jess- said...

I am a teacher and use this book every year! I absolutely love it and love the stories students write to tell the story of the illustrations! Great find!

M. Bloom said...

Have you read "The Sweetest Fig" by Van Allsburg? I highly recommend that one, too...

...and baby makes five! said...

Wow... I TOTALLY forgot all about this book until your post.

One of my favorites growing up... now I'm on the look-out for a copy for my kiddos!

Holly said...

Wow! SO many of you know and LOVE this book. Cool.

M. Bloom--I have not read The Sweetest Fig--in fact, have never heard of or seen it before...but will be looking for it now.

Jessica said...

I still remember the day in 3rd grade when we all picked an illustration from this book and wrote a story. I picked the house that's taking off like a rocket.

Then, almost twenty years later, I used the same book to inspire creative writing with my 2nd through 5th graders! Love, love this book.