Customer Reviews: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
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Picture books have a wide range of purposes in this world. They can teach and inform. They can amuse and entertain. Sometimes, though, I think that the most impressive picture books are the ones that inspire. And not in a gosh-doesn't-that-drawing-of-a-sunset-make-you-want-to-draw-a-sunset-too type mentality. I mean true inspiration. The kind you might find, for example, in Chris Van Allsburg's incredibly entertaining and mysterious picture book, "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick". I can think of no other source in this world better able to inspire children to write their own highly interesting stories. "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" has been used for years as a uniquely original source for stirring up potential tales in the minds of kids everywhere. More importantly, though, it's just a darn good book. Darn good!

Few books for small children actively encourage you to read a long wordy Introduction to them first. This is one of the few. Before we see any of the pictures we are told a tale of one Mr. Wenders and one Mr. Burdick. Mr. Wenders was once a children's book publisher. As he was sitting in his office one day a Mr. Harris Burdick arrived with fourteen illustrations. It seems that Mr. Burdick had written fourteen stories and he had brought an illustration from each of these for the perusal of Mr. Wenders. After dropping off the pictures (each with its own title and line from the book it belonged to) he left and was never seen again. This book is a presentation of those mysterious images, all suggesting that they belong to magical stories of their own. The introductory story, I should probably point out, is utterly false. But it gives some nice context to the images that follow and hopefully kids will still dig them.

If you've ever read "Jumanji" or "Polar Express" then you are familiar with Van Allsburg's style of mysterious eerily realistic drawings. All pictures in this particular book are in black and white, but they each seem just a little too real to be completely fantastical. Some pictures are sublime. There's an especially amusing one that displays a nun flying above two men in what looks to be a cathedral. The title of the print is, "The Seven Chairs" and the accompanying quote reads, "The fifth one ended up in France". Other pictures in the book vary in creepiness and wonder. There's a picture of a man attempting to beat something large under his carpet with a nearby chair. Another illustration a house lifting off into space. Another shows a woman lowering a knife to a pumpkin as it glows like a brightly lit luminary.

The advantage of this book is that as kids page through it, they feel the need to tell the rest of the stories they see presented here. If a kid looks at the picture of a boy being abducted by a ship's captain they may wish to write a tale of adventure and derring-do on the high seas. Consequently, each tale told here can be interpreted a variety of different ways. I don't want to make this book sound as if it's sole purpose is as a method of teaching writing exercises. I just want to point out that it's so lovely a collection of images that I think anyone that reads it will be pleased by what they see. Pleased to the point of extravagant imaginings, in some cases.

Every Chris Van Allsburg book contains some sort of deeply mysterious tone to it. He's the kind of illustrator that causes great love and adoration in his fans. "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" is not your normal run-of-the-mill type picture book. And if you're looking for something to read your five-year-old to sleep with, look elsewhere. You will not find anything here that will interest them. What you will find instead is a book like no other. One of my favorite picture books, even at the grand old age of 26.
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VINE VOICEon December 27, 2001
My sixth grade teacher used this book for a creative writing assignment. We were supposed to pick one of the pages and write a story based on Chris Van Allsburg's wonderful illustrations.
Chris Van Allsburg, known to me as the author/illustrator of Jumanji and The Polar Express, outdoes himself in this book. It is a book to get the mind thinking, especially for children. Each illustration has a caption that is supposed to get the mind thinking. A child cannot read this book without formulating a story, perhaps unconsciously, in his mind.
Chris Van Allsburg is a wonderful artist. Each illustration, done in only simple black and white, is so breathtaking that I could stare at them time and again and be amazed at the detail, the realness. The sentence-long captions that go along with each picture even today cause me to dream up a story. It is a terrific book to get a child interested in writing. :)
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on October 23, 1999
For accelerating the imagination of a child, this book works like a magic potion. I am 18 now, and love it as much as I did the first time I read it, at about age 7. Its drawings are magical, and I think the real draw in VanAllsburg's work is that it's a little eerie, too. There are mysteries here (hence the title), and my favorite thing about these fragments is that they are presented as just that-- fragments of a story. They make for excellent creative exercises for children, making up the stories around the pictures and bits of narrative. If you are a parent looking for books for your children, BUY THIS. And even if you are looking for books for yourself, take a look. Relive the magic of your childhood, because this book is begging you to.
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on May 31, 2004
A colleague introduced me to the portfolio edition, and it is one of the best finds I have added to my writing program. What makes this edition better than the traditionally-bound book is that you can post each of the 12" x 16" drawings around the classroom and use them as picture prompts for writing. I have my students use the captions as the first line of their stories. So far, this collection has been a hit with every class I've taught. You won't be disappointed!
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on June 23, 1998
I am seventeen years old and a regular reader of high literature, i.e. Beloved, Of Human Bondage, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Stories of John Cheever, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. My interests rarely travel off the beaten literary path, but one of my favorite books of all time, to this day, is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. It is a magical book, and its rich drawings impress themselves on your memory, so theat the first time you read it, it becomes an eternal testament to creativity and the power of the imagination. I will never forget this book as long as I live, and I also rest assured in the fact that it can never be disgraced by being adapted to the big screen. Just as George Orwell's Animal Farm should never have been animated, neither should this. It is too brilliant, and too lasting aleady as a book. Every child in the world should be issued a copy of Chris Van Allsbvurg's poetic masterpiece at birth. It's as simple as that. So, parents, if you are taking this book into consideration for your child, don't hesitate. BUY IT NOW. It is well worth the 20.00 for a lifetime of imagination.
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VINE VOICEon October 31, 2001
This is the book that got me started writing. About 16 years ago, my English teacher gave us an assignment and this book to base the assignment on. The unique pictures, the sparkling captions and the fascinating titles all served to get me thinking and writing. Two hundred notebooks and countless computer files later, I'm still at it. This is the cure for writer's block, and the answer to dreary days that need some storytelling. The only folks I can see this book not helping are the ones who would prefer NOT to use their imaginations. For them, perhaps television is better. But any person, any age can see countless possibilities from the teasing details present here. This is the book to leave out on the coffee table, to take into the classroom, to keep by the word processor. If you haven't seen it, check it out. And have fun with your stories!
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on January 18, 2002
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is a book where they give you a title, a picture , and an opening sentence. You have to create the rest of the story. It lets you use creativity and allows you to write whatever you want. But the writing you do is in a strict matter.
One example is a picture of a ship the size of the Titanic. The Ship is going through an extremely tiny canal in Venice, knocking down large buildings. The title is Missing in Venice and it gives you the first line of the story. As for the pictures they are absolutely marvelous. They have tons of details , are black and white , and are very haunting.
This book has stimulated my brain to write with the ingredients that the book presents me. It inspires me to write every day. Also it builds my vocabulary and gives my brain a workout. I give The Mysteries of Harris Burdick five out of five stars and recommend it for all ages.
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This is a different book in so many ways. It is really one that should be placed not only in the children's section of the library, but the adult also. The author gives us a brief explanation as to where the pictures came from (no spoiler it yourself), and then the book begins. Each picture is all Allsburg. Wonderful black and white illustrations done in pencil and, as with his other books, each illustrtion is absolutely captivating and a delight to gaze at or study. Each picture is accompanied by just one line of a story with no explanation other than the picture itself. This is a wonderful book to add to a creative writing class, for any age, contemplate late evenings, or just to enjoy anytime. This work will certainly not hurt a childs imagination and infact can start the day-dreaming going in most adults. I highly recommend this one and highly recommend you add it to your home library.
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on December 8, 1999
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a creative approach to a young adult book that I have never wittnessed before. He incorporates within the book's content a letter at the beginning professing that he found the photos and does not know their origin. This creative approach disattaches the author from the material so the reader has this sense that they have fallen upon a mystery, a magical new world, of some unknown artist. I plan to be a teacher, and I can see this book being a great tool to start creative writing assignments. As one opens the book, they see picture after picture of scenes that boggle the mind and defy normal reality. It is a fresh approach to the imagination and sharpens the mind.
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on February 27, 2001
Chris Van Allsburg tells an intriguing story of finding fourteen inspiring drawings from a children's book publisher. A gentleman named Harris Burdick brought the drawings to the publisher. He was supposed to return the following day with the stories that went along with these drawings, but he never came back. All that accompanies the drawings are a title and one sentence caption.
You cannot help but look at the drawings and start wondering what they are about. Some look like they are the start to an adventure and some end long journeys. Some are even a (little) bit scary. This is the magic of the book. As soon as you look at the drawings, you start to imagine and think of other worlds and adventures.
Your child will be able to verbalize or write the stories to go along with the drawings. These sketches allow you to go in hundreds of different directions, allowing the stories to change each time you visit them. My five-year-old daughter was even imagining what could have happened to Harris Burdick to keep him from returning with the stories. She had no trouble at all with the book's unique concept and immediately went to work on helping solve the mysteries of the book's drawings.
This book is wonderfully unique and will open doors to places in your child's imagination and mind that are too seldom challenged by most children's books. Find a place for this book in your family's time.
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