Tucker's Tales


Consumer's Report: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Posted by Kristen Geil on January 9, 2012 at 4:00 PM

After two failed attempts, I finally achieved a Chicago Public Library card this week. It was a process, to say the least. First, they were closed on Jnauary 2nd (I was not aware that this was a federal holiday). When I returned, they wouldn't let me because it was within a half-hour of closing (lazy much?). Finally, on the "third time's the charm" try, I GOT IT! That coveted laminated sheet of plastic that allows me to check out five items for my first month and thirty after this trial period. The responsibility is a burden, yes, but I will try my best to bring honor and glory with my library card and its power.

With the card burning a hole in my pocket, I headed to my favorite section of the library in hopes of finding a book worthy of my FIRST CHECK OUT: the "New Arrivals" section. One book in particular caught my eye--

I had read about this book in a magazine or online somewhere, and I had been intrigued at the book's premise and background. The author, Chris Van Allsburg, will surely induce readers to nod slowly and murmur, "Oooooooh, him..." He wrote our childhood favorites The Polar Express, Jumanji, and The Wreck of the Zephyr. We remember him most for his detailed yet slightly eerie illustrations, and his penchant for an unexpected twist. 

This book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, stems from an earlier Van Allsburg work, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. This book (if that's even the proper term for it) was a collection of 14 images, each with a title and single line of text on the opposite page. The premise is that author/illustrator Harris Burdick dropped them off at an editor's office one day, with the promise to deliver the complete manuscripts of each picture book if the editor liked them and decided to purchase them. He never returned, leaving the detailed illustrations and dangling captions floating in a sea of mystery. Fans were invited to mail in their own stories to go with the images, and they responded in droves.

"Another Place, Another Time"- If there was an answer, he'd find it there.

Fast foward to 2011. Van Allsburg hand-picked fourteen acclaimed authors and assigned each of them one of the image/text pairs, giving them the opportunity to write their own story as accompaniment. A choose your own adventure, if you will. Authors include Louis Sachar, Stephen King  Jon Scieszka, Gregory Maguire, Lois Lowry, and Chris himself. 

"The Seven Chairs"- The fifth one ended up in France.

Okay. Long and windy backstory completed, here's why I recommend picking up this book. First, if you read half as much as I did, you should recognize the partial list of authors above and immediately feel a wave of nostalgia for The Stinky Cheese Man, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, and the Anastasia series. I miss reading kids books, and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick puts a grown-up twist on a childlike premise. 

A grown-up twist, you say? Why yes, these stories may be written by children's authors, but I would hestitate to say that they are for kids. Each has a slightly menacing undertone and an eerie underlying message. For example, one of my favorites so far is "Strange Day In July," in which Sherman Alexie writes about quirky twins who invent an imaginary triplet with the sole intention of plaguing their family and schoolmates- only to have this invisible triplet turn the tables on them. The stories are gripping and thought-provoking, often concluding with a surprise twist. They are short stories as the genre is meant to be read. 

Plus, how cool is van Allsburg's idea in general? I love that he chose some of our generation's favorite authors and gave them free rein to use their imaginations. True, it kind of sounds like an exercise in a community college creative writing class, but the results are fantastic. 

Best of all, I know that Tucker's Tales readers are busy people without a lot of free time on their hands to devote to understanding and remembering long novels. Since Chronicles is already conveniently broken up into 14 separate tales, you can easily pick up the book for twenty minutes at a time and then put it right back down. With The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, van Allsburg reintroduces the short story as a viable, enjoyable reading option, and I hope that other authors follow this trend. 


Categories: Advice + Lexington's Best Kept Secrets

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