The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Collaborative Stories At Its Finest

"The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" is one of children's book illustrator Chris Van Allsburg's most mysterious picture books. Supposedly a collection of images, titles, and single lines from stories by the mysterious Harris Burdick, they are designed to cause the reader to try to speculate as to what the full story would be.

This book, "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick," gathers together the efforts of several highly acclaimed writers, including Louis Sachar, Sherman Alexie, Stephen and Tabitha King, and Van Allsburg himself, to tell these stories themselves. While by necessity it does undermine the purpose of the original picture book, I really enjoyed these stories, and it was great to see what these diverse talents would do with these strange pictures, titles, and lines.

As always with a short story collection, it is a mixed bag, although as I said before I generally liked everything. Stephen King's "The House on Maple Street" (originally written separately from this volume) was pretty good, taking the image of a house blasting off into space and turning it into an intriguing tale of children uniting against their cruel stepfather. "Missing in Venice" by Gregory Maguire was a neat little modern-day fairy tale, whilst "Just Desert" by M.T. Anderson is a paranoia-inducing little tale about a kid discovering that his world is not at all like he thought it was. I found Lois Lowry's "The Seven Chairs" to be a fun and interesting little tidpbit, although it wasn't really a complete story, with the same thing going for Louis Sachar's "Captain Tory" and Van Allsburg's own "Oscar and Alphonse". I liked the form of Kate DiCamillo's "The Third Floor Bedroom" (as a series of letters), although the actual story was somewhat slight. I liked elements of Linda Sue Park's "The Harp," although on the whole I found it somewhat disjointed.I didn't feel Sherman Alexie's "A Strange Day in July" or Jules Feiffer's "Uninvited Guests" really embraced the spirit of their pictures, but both (especially Alexie's story) were interesting and well written. Walter Dean Myers' "Mr. Linden's Library" was extremely well-written, although crueler to its protagonist than I would have liked.

All in all, the stories were well-written and I enjoyed them, even if many weren't the stories I would have written with those images. But I suppose that was the point, and I do hope that this collection won't stop others from creating their own stories to go with the mysterious Mr. Burdick's drawings. Definitely check this book out if you want a nice sampler plate of acclaimed authors' stories.

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