The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg
I enjoy the work of children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, particularly his 1984 book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This is not your average children’s picture book; instead, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a series of 14 exquisitely detailed, black and white illustrations, each accompanied by an enigmatic title and caption. Alternately whimsical and haunting, the illustrations in this book inspired me (and countless other readers) to invent stories to explain what was going on in the pictures. Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit a cherished part of my childhood by reading The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, an illustrated short story collection in which 14 authors, including Stephen King and his wife Tabitha King, Sherman Alexie, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, and Cory Doctorow, have contributed stories inspired by the illustrations in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
All of the stories are original to the collection with the exception of Stephen King’s “The House on Maple Street,” which originally appeared in his 1993 book Nightmares & Dreamscapes. The stories themselves are not linked by any recurring characters or situations, so readers shouldn’t feel that the stories need to be read in any specific order. Like Van Allsburg’s illustrations, each story has its own unique tone and style; some are dark, like Jules Feiffer’s “Uninvited Guests,” while others, such as Louis Sachar’s “Captain Tory,” are sweet and poignant.
One of my favorite stories in the collection was M.T. Anderson’s “Just Desert,” the tale of a boy named Alex who, on the eve of his 10th birthday, discovers that nothing in his world is as it appears. I felt the authors did a fine job of capturing the surreal atmosphere found in Van Allsburg’s illustrations. Lemony Snicket’s introduction is also a real hoot.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is a good, quick read that should appeal to readers who grew up intrigued by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Check the WRL catalog for The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Check the WRL catalog for The Mysteries of Harris Burdick