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Review: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
By Chris Van Allsburg and various authors

Houghton Mifflin

ISBN: 9780547548104
Grades 5 and Up
In Stores

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Hype can be a bugger. Any time you get a slew of well-known authors together on a project, expectations are going to be high. Such is the case with The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. It’s hard to manage expectations when considering a star-studded collection of short stories based on the images and captions of Chris Van Allsberg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Possibly more impressive than the author lineup is the fact that it works so well. As short story collections often go, there is some unevenness, but on the whole this is a highly successful (and skillful) effort.

After an introduction from Lemony Snickett, the chronicles begin. Each begins simply, with an image from Harris Burdick opposite its accompanying caption. From these two points of reference, each author crafts a story. From the near-slapstick of Jon Scieszka’s entry to the first-person sadness and hope of Kate DiCamillo’s tale, the range of emotion is broad – a testament to the versatility of the Burdick images. Through it all, the tone of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick remains intact – most of the authors opted to continue the eerie mood the images invoke.

Setting the images aside for a moment, it’s interesting to see how each author approached the caption they had to work with. Some authors inserted the line early on, furthering the story, while others chose to end their tale with the caption, keeping the mystery intact. In a way, this makes sense – the mystery of what might happen next is likely more interesting than what actually would take place.

The design of the book is impressive. The large format and font size are inviting. The images that open each chapter on on thicker stock, which makes it easy to see where one story ends and the next begins.

In terms of audience, this book casts a wide net. Although some of the stories will work best with middle and even high school audiences, upper elementary readers will also find much to like.

The original Harris Burdick has become a creative-writing institution and an inspiration for kids’ imaginations – Chronicles makes an excellent companion. If you haven’t already, make sure you add this to your collection.

Review copy from the publisher.

Watch The Chronicles of Harris Burdick book trailer:

(Thanks to Watch. Connect. Read. for the link)

Also reviewed by A Fuse #8 Production, Bookends, School Library Monthly Blog, Fantasy Cafe, BookPeople’s Blog.

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.


  1. Chris Van Allsburg talks about his new work in this interview – http://www.devstu.org/blogs/interview-with-chris-van-allsburg-part-1