100 Scope Notes
Inside 100 Scope Notes

Retro Review: The Wretched Stone

van-allsburg-wretched-stone.jpgThe Wretched Stone
By Chris Van Allsburg
Houghton Mifflin Company (1991)
ISBN 9780395533079
Grades 2-4
In Stores

Unless there is some strange cult out there that seeks to unlock life’s mysteries through meditations on “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” (and really, there might be), nowhere on earth does Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg receive more love than in the Southwest region of the mitten state. How do I know? Well, it’s where I live and work as a school librarian. The wonderful Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) recently wrapped up an exhibit of Mr. V.A.’s drawings and I stopped by for a look. Amazing stuff. Original artwork was on display from just about every book he’s worked on, including my personal favorite “The Wretched Stone”. The visit inspired me to dust of the ol’ retro review.

The story begins as the ship Rita Anne is setting sail. Where she is going is never made clear. The work is narrated entirely through ship’s log entries by Captain Randall Ethan Hope, and an ominous tone is set right from the get go. Van Allsburg really needs to check into the legality of patenting a mood, because this sort of quiet unease has been his calling card for years – you just know some things are about to go down. And indeed they do. The crew soon discovers an uncharted island and decide to explore. They find a lush landscape, but encounter no signs of life. The crew does find an extrordinary glowing rock and decide to bring it on board. This is were things start to get weird. As the crew stares at the stone, they begin to take on some, shall we say, simian characteristics. The odd appeal of the stone proves to be very strong, putting their voyage in danger.

Call me an oblivious youth, but when I was a kid the correlation between the glowing rock and television didn’t occur to me. I dug the mystery, I dug the pictures, I dug the fact that humans were turning into apes. Only after I read the book later on did I understand that “The Wretched Stone” was indeed Van Allsburg’s ode to the pitfalls of too much television. This realization made me appreciate the book anew. A classic to meditate on.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.