First of all, let me start by saying that Chris Van Allsburg is a genius. Every one of his stories leave me surprised by their creative ending! If this name doesn’t sound familiar to you, it should. He is the author of The Polar Express and Jumangi. You with me now? I hope you’ve heard of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, as well, but chances are you might not be familiar with it. Get ready to be amazed!
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a collection of fourteen illustrations, which are each paired with a title and a caption. The first page of the book includes an explanation from the editor about how this portfolio came to be: the editor met with an aspiring children’s book illustrator named Harris Burdick who showed him one drawing from each of his books. The two planned to have a second meeting where Burdick agreed to bring the books in their entirety to the editor. However, for some reason, he never showed up. In fact, after that initial meeting, Harris Burdick was never heard from again.
With that mystery looming in your mind, the reader is encouraged to write their own story based off of the illustrations the editor managed to obtain.
I think this story is brilliant and is completely convincing! In fact, the first year that I used this book as a prompt in my writing class, I believed it was real. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I taught it that way, too; as if the story were true! It wasn’t until I was chatting with my mentor teacher, sharing with her my lesson with my students and all the questions they had about the missing Harris Burdick, that she realized my misconception. Honestly though, it made the whole writing process more fun for the kids. They had a blast and came up with the most creative stories!
It was after this experience that Chris Van Allsburg solidified for himself the title of “best picture book author” in my mind.
This book is appropriate for ALL ages, including adults. Since the book is comprised of pictures that encourage you to write a story, anyone can enjoy it because everyone can tell a story!
In fact, there is a great book written in response to Van Allsburg’s book that includes a compilation of stories by famous authors based on these pictures, which include Lois Lowry (The Giver), Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie), Stephen King, Louis Sachar (Holes), and MANY other great writers!
The black and white illustrations are done in Chris Van Allsburg’s typical style. (I guess that should have been my first clue that this was not a real story…) You can even search through the pages to find the bull terrier that is in each of his books!
One of the often overlooked ways to read a book, is to simply read the pictures. Chris Van Allsburg is a master at encouraging readers, both old and young, to do this. Learn more about this method of reading by checking out our post on the Three Ways to Read a Book.
- The Mysteries of Harris Burdick book is an excellent prompt for narrative writing. Choose a picture and write your own story based on it. Also, make sure to use the title, and include the caption somewhere in the story!
- Young children unable to write should orally tell their story to an adult. Write down their tale, print it out, bind it as a book (staples or hole-punch and tied with string will do), then add it to your child’s library! They will feel so special when you pull out their book to read for story time.
- Continue Harris Burdick’s tale:
- Write the story from Harris Burdick’s point of view. Tell what actually happened to him in regards to the disappearance.
- Write the story from your own point of view as you conduct a search to find him. What other clues could you stumble upon? More illustrations perhaps?
- Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nominee for Picture Book
Other Books by Chris Van Allsburg
Zathura (Jumangi’s sequel)
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