The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Lynn: Everyone has a theory about Harris Burdick, but Lemony Snickett, never known for his lack of opinions, asserts in his introduction to The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (Houghton 2011) “that these are the actual stories written by Harris Burdick, given by Burdick to the various authors who are pretending to write them.”  Well, I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory, especially one posed by the esteemed Mr. Snickett.  Never fear, readers, Bookends is on the case and Watson, I mean Cindy, and I will do our best to track the truth to its lair.

While you wait, give yourself a treat.  Settle down and enjoy reading these wonderful stories.  14 authors (perhaps!) had tremendous fun giving us their responses to the illustrations that have intrigued countless readers for more than twenty-five years.  These are authors teens will recognize and if they weren’t fans before reading the stories, they will be after!  Here are just some of the folks who joined in the fun:  Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, Louis Sachar, Kate DiCamillo, Lois Lowry, M.T. Anderson and Stephen King.  I know I should be able to tell you my favorite story but it was simply impossible for me to choose.  I loved each story, thought each was PERFECT with its illustration and found the book completely addictive.  At the end of every story I couldn’t resist going on to the next, telling myself I would read just one more.  Now – who really is Harris Burdick?  Theories anyone?

Cindy: You’ll never believe this since we look so young, but Lynn and I are both old enough to have been librarians when the original Mysteries of Harris Burdick was published in 1984. I was just out of grad school and starting my first job at the Oak Lawn (IL) Public Library. I ran creative writing programs for 3rd grade and up and VanAllsburg’s book was perfect to use. I bought an extra copy of the book, used a razor blade to remove the pages and then copied Harris Burdick’s mysterious titles and captions and glued them underneath the illustrations on a larger piece of black construction paper, one per sheet. I laminated each page separately and then had a class set of 14 story-starters to use with my groups. I still have that handmade set and have used it with my middle school students through the years, although now you can buy a Portfolio edition that looks much nicer and can save yourself a lot of time. It also contains a 15th newly discovered illustration.

As for the stories presented here? Lynn is right, they are brilliant. Jon Sciezka and Sherman Alexie both made me laugh out loud while also creeping me out. Stephen King creates quite a scenario for “The House on Maple Street,” but he is not alone here in using his story to dispense with an annoying or abusive relative. The stories are all fabulous. I would tell you about M. T. Anderson and his fascinating take on “Just Desert,” but I’m too afraid to talk about it. Be sure to read it. You need to know. But don’t tell him that I blogged about it here. Please.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

2 Comments on "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg"

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  1. I have loved reading this collection, too. I’m fascinated by the question of whether the Newbery Committee will consider this collection. Stephen King’s story was previously published, but then so was part of the Graveyard Book. I do think that all of the contributors are eligible. Hmm, interesting question… another mystery surrounding Burdick!

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