The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - Thao Lam
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The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

One of the biggest mysteries in children’s book publishing is ‘Who is Harris Burdick?’ His name is well known among authors and illustrators but his existence is a mystery. Harris Burdick simply vanished one day leaving behind no record except fourteen drawings to prove his existence. Keep reading…

Chris Van Allsburg first came across Harris Burdick’s drawings while visiting his friend Peter Wenders. Mr. Wenders is a retired children’s book editor and years ago a man name Harris Burdick brought him fourteen drawings, one from each story he had written. Mr. Wenders was intrigued by what he read and wanted to read the rest of the stories. With a promise to bring the rest of the manuscripts in the next morning, Harris Burdick left Mr. Wenders with the fourteen drawings, but he did not return the next day or the day after that. Harris Burdick was never heard from again. Many have tried to solve the mystery of Harris Burdick and what happened to him. With all the rumors and speculations over the years, Harris Burdick still remains an enigma to this day. With hopes of finally solving the mystery of Harris Burdick, Chris Van Allsburg reproduced and published the fourteen drawings.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg is an odd one. There is absolutely no storyline. The book is filled with a series of unrelated, highly detail surreal images. Each image is accompanied by a title and a single line of text, compelling readers to create their own stories. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is occasionally used in classrooms as a springboard for creative writing exercises.

Every time I see a Chris Van Allsburg piece I am in awe, how does he manage not to smudge the pieces as he works? I am left-handed and it would be impossible for me not to leave an imprint. The black-and-white illustrations created in carbon pencil and charcoals are crisp and clean. The softness of his approach creates an eerie glow, generating an ominous feeling that will set your spidey senses tingling. Allsburg is a master at lighting. Bright whites contrast with dark shadows to help focus and lead the reader’s eye through the illustrations. Lighting becomes part of the composition. Each illustration alone has the ability to tell an amazing story. You can sense the foreshadowing; something bewitching or sinister is about to happen.

With so many possibilities it’s hard not to weave your own tale. Fans of the book will be thrilled to find out that there is a sequel to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: a collection of short stories written by some of our very best storytellers; 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.

Like any good marketing department, they released a trailer to drum up sales and excitement. It worked, I am super excited and I have already preordered my copy! Check out The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

Author and Illustrator Chris Van Allsburg

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Chris Van Allsburg attended the University of Michigan with the vague idea of studying law but on a whim he signed up for art courses, which end up being a career-changing move. Allsburg graduated with a degree in sculpture and continue his studies at Rhode Island School of Design where he earned his Master in Fine Art. His reputation as a sculpture quickly spread as his work began showing in galleries. Chris Van Allsburg didn’t begin drawing until 1979, when it got too cold to go the studio Allsburg would spend his nights drawing. Allsburg didn’t think much of his black-and-white drawings but his wife did. As a schoolteacher, Lisa thought her husband’s drawings made great storybooks. Lisa took Allburg’s drawings to Walter Lorraine, an editor at Houghton Mifflin. Blown away by the drawings Mr. Lorraine encouraged Allburg to come up with his own stories. Chris Van Allsburg’s first published book was The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.

Curious about Chris Van Allsburg, check out his website


Publisher Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (September 24, 1984)

ISBN-10 0395353939

ISBN-13 978-0395353936