This week I spent some time with my kiddos teaching them about Chris Van Allsburg. He wrote The Polar Express, Jumanji, Zathura, and many other VERY creative books! I’m a big fan, and my students have become just as obsessed as me.
One of my favorite books that he has published includes an introduction explaining one of the greatest mysteries of our time: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The great element of suspense hits you as soon as you’re reading the introduction to the book! Chris Van Allsburg explains seeing the illustrations of a great children’s book artist named Harris Burdick. Burdick visited a publisher with his portfolio, which included one picture from each of the books he had written. The publisher loved the drawings and wanted to see more. They scheduled an appointment for the next day, and Burdick left, but never returned for their meeting. From that day they first met, he was never heard from again.
The introduction goes on to explain that many people have searched for Harris Burdick, only to find their efforts were fruitless. The only clues that remained were his pictures, which included the title for each book and a caption giving some details about the story they were written for.
Chris Van Allsburg compiled the pictures and published them in one book. They have now become a great source of inspiration for young (and old) writers. My students even had the opportunity to choose one of the pictures and write their own fictional narrative this week. I have read some very interesting, funny, and even scary pieces based on these illustrations!
This is the second year that I have taught this writing lesson, and each year my students have loved making up their own stories! One day this past week, another reading teacher on my team was talking to me about the assignment and made an interesting comment about the book.
“Isn’t Chris Van Allsburg so creative to come up with something like this?” she asked.
“Like what? It was a great idea to publish the pictures. Absolutely!” I responded.
“You do know it’s a lie, right? He made up the entire introduction.”
You would not have believed the heartbreak I felt at that moment, along with some embarrassment for being so gullible. And it all came the faintest taste of humble pie on the side, because I was so proud of the lesson I prepared, which prompted their enthusiastic responses! Had I really been lying to them all this time?
After really studying the pictures I did recognize the same artistic style found in all of my other favorite Van Allsburg stories. He has also commemorated a favorite friend’s puppy, Fritz, by including him in at least one illustration in each of his books. It turns out, that he was also in one of the Harris Burdick pictures, too…