Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mysteries Revealed at Last

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Written by: Chris Van Allsburg and others

Released: October 25, 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade

Summary: One Pulitzer Prize, five Newbery Medals, three Newbery Honors, two Caldecott Medals, one Caldecott Honor, three National Book Awards, seven National Book Award nominations, and five Coretta Scott King Awards. This is only a partial list of all accolades earn by the contributors of this book.

This inspired collection of short stories is based on the original illustrations of Chris Van Allburg in his esteemed and mysterious The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, originally published in 1984, and features many remarkable, best-selling authors in the worlds of both adult and children's literature: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and Chris Van Allsburg himself.

Van Allsburg's Harris Burdick illustrations have evoked such wonderment and imagination since Harris Burdick's original publication in 1984; many have speculated or have woven their own stories to go with his images. More than ever, the illustrations send off their eerie call for text and continue to compel and pick at the reader's brain for a backstory--a threaded tale behind the image. In this book, we've collected some of the best storytellers to spin them.

When I was in grade 5 or 6 (some time in the late ‘90s) my teacher decided that we were going to do a literary unit on Chris Van Allsburg. The weeks that followed had us reading Jumanji, The Z was Zapped, The Polar Express, and every other Van Allsburg book that we had available in our school library. With each book we did a project and the one that went with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick was my favourite. That’s because the project that we did was this book.

Ok, it wasn’t this book exactly, but everyone in the class had to sign up for one of the pictures and write a short story incorporating both it and the caption below it. Mine was the picture with the glowing pumpkin called ‘Just Desert’ – which I totally spelled Dessert on the project – and it was about Halloween and witches. It was a disaster. But I remember at the time being completely taken with this book and wondering what stories would go with each of the pictures.

Then one day I was looking through netGalley and stumbled across this. No lie, the first thing I did after requesting it was to message one of my classmates from then and inform her of this upcoming publication. She too was excited.

Now, for this collection of stories, some were better than others. I really enjoyed a lot of them but there were a few which I skimmed through. But since it’s a collection of 14 short stories, they aren’t all necessarily going to appeal to the reader. I still loved reading them (even the ones I didn’t enjoy) purely because it’s like reliving my elementary school days. Plus it shed some light into the possibilities of what those stories could have been at the time that the pictures were originally drawn.

This collection is a wonderful use of the imagination that will captivate audiences all over the world. It really showcases the power of a picture and how it can help form an entire stream of consciousness. I give it 9/10.

My thanks to both netGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read this.

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