Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: 14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales
By Chris Van Allsburg
Published 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children

I was introduced to this book by a professor in library school. Originally published by Van Allsburg in 1984, the first version of this book contained only the haunting illustrations and one to two lines of text. The book's existence was explained by way of an interesting introduction. Now, 14 authors have collected here to tell us the stories behind these unusual illustrations.

I find the introduction by Lemony Snicket in this edition to be entirely unnecessary. It doesn't really add much information to anyone who is familiar with the original. Snicket simply uses this space to posit the notion that these are the actual stories, written by Harris Burdick and entrusted to these 14 authors for care. What a magical thought, but is it true? Likely not. I would actually have liked to learn the process that was used for stories and authors - were authors selected and then they chose which stories they wanted to tell? Or were authors selected to tell certain stories, decided by Van Allsburg (or his publisher)? It's interesting to think about how the illustrations and authors were matched. For me, some of the combinations worked out much better than others. Some of the combinations I found quite bizarre. But overall, this was an interesting new take on this infamous work by Van Allsburg. My favorite new tales included Jon Scieszka's "Under the Rug" (which grew from "Two weeks passed and it happened again."), Sherman Alexie's "A Strange Day in July" ("He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back."), Jules Feiffer's "Uninvited Guests" ("His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn."), Linda Sue Park's "The Harp" ("So it's true he thought, it's really true."), "Mr. Linden's Library" by Walter Dean Myers ("He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late."), Lois Lowry's "The Seven Chairs" ("The fifth one ended up in France.")...actually, the only ones I didn't really enjoy were Tabitha King's, Gregory Maguire's, and Cory Doctorow's. All in all, this is a stellar collection of short stories by a great variety of authors.

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

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