Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chronicles of Harris Burdick - a fascinating collection of stories (ages 8 - 12)

Do children want their stories all wrapped up, with easy answers? Or do they like stories that ask the reader to think, that leave us feeling a bit off-kilter? I would argue that many children like stories that don't have tidy endings, but that let the reader come up with their own answers. Our students are fascinated by books by Chris Van Allsburg, precisely because he wants his stories to leave mysteries that are unsolved.

Twenty-five years ago, Van Allsburg shared with us The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. One day, an author Harris Burdick showed up in a children's book editor's office with sample illustrations and titles for fourteen of his stories. This editor was fascinated, but Burdick never came back to share his full stories. This editor shared these stories with Van Allsburg, who was determined to share these. Ever since The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have been published, children have been writing their own stories to complete Burdick's stories.

Now, in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, fourteen children's authors have shared their own stories based on Burdick's original stories. Ranging from Jon Scieszka to Kate DiCamillo to Stephen King, these authors have responded to Burdick's original illustrations, keeping true to the illustrations, the titles and lines from the stories. The interesting thing, as Van Allsburg said in a recent interview on West Coast Live, is that Burdick's stories plant a different seed in whoever responds to the illustrations.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
by Chris Van Allsburg and others
illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ages 8 to 14
available at your local library, favorite bookstore or at Amazon
audiobook available on Audible or Amazon
Each of the stories will plant a seed in your mind. The authors create an idea of what might have led to Burdick's illustrations, but they don't provide definitive answers. What I love best about these stories is that they allow the scenarios to echo in my mind, as I wonder about what might have happened. Some authors revel in Van Allsburg's mysterious suggestions. Jon Scieszka's and Stephen King's stories will send eerie chills down your spines, and you'll never look at your own house quite the same way. Other authors stretch outside of their usual comfort zone. Walter Dean Myer's story, Mr. Linden's Library, has an almost old-fashioned, fable-like quality as it follows a girl who finds herself utterly compelled to read a story that has a different ending each time she reads it.

I'm interested to hear from teachers how students respond to these new stories. Many teachers use Harris Burdick's illustrations as writing prompts in the classroom. I wonder how children will feel reading author's stories after they've written their own. I am hoping that they see the way that art can inspire creativity in different ways in different people.

My daughter and I had great fun seeing Chris Van Allsburg in conversation with Lemony Snickett and Mac Barnett at the San Francisco Public Library yesterday. If you want to have a fun sense of Lemony Snickett's take on the story, watch this funny book trailer. Snickett is convinced that the Burdick mystery continues. Learn more about Van Allsburg through the wonderful video interviews at Reading Rockets.

For other reviews, check out:

The review copy was kindly sent by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. I am DYING to get my hands on this book! I used Harris Burdick in my classroom for years (and actually used it last Wednesday as a quick writing prompt while doing an author visit).

  2. I hope you can see it soon! It's wonderful the way these authors have created stories, but stayed true to Van Allsburg's tone and mysteries.

  3. This is a good common sense article. Very helpful to one who is just finding the resources about this part. It will certainly help educate me.

  4. The book is great and hope you find more interesting stories soon

  5. Ooh jealous you got to see that Handler / Van Allsburg / Barnett talk! I'll bet that was some excellent repartee.

    I am JUUST now getting to this - like you, I am a bit torn about creating 'canonical' responses to those illustrations, but I just can't resist the talent!

  6. Mary Ann! I was hoping these stories would give me answers to the mysteries!!!! I've been stumped by them. I try to look at the pictures and it's so hard for my brain to think about. I'm still curious to see what the authors come up with....maybe it'll help me gain some clarity? At least a little? I hope so!