book crush thursday: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

His disappearance is not the only mystery left behind. What were the stories that went with these drawings? There are some clues. Burdick had written a title and caption for each picture. -- Chris Van Allsburg, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

I always loved those books that let the readers inside. The ones that give you options, that let you make up part of the story. I remember a handful of those books that I checked out repeatedly from the library--I couldn't stop reading them. How could I, when they changed every time?

There was the collection of unusual but simple drawings, which forced you to guess what each shape could be... (a hat? or a snake that swallowed an elephant?) And there were, inevitably, the entire range of Choose Your Own Adventure novels, which I devoured, over and over again.

I still think interactive books are endlessly fascinating. They've trained me to question even the "non-interactive" tales, which is probably why I'm entranced by retellings. And why my friends and I occupied ourselves by reimagining Shakespeare (I still prefer our corollary to A Winter's Tale: it's the only way it makes sense!), or reinventing Little Women. (My good friend Sarah came up with a far better ending than Louisa wrote.)

I guess I just love the collaboration: the story and I put our heads together, and come up with something else, something new. Isn't that much of the appeal of fiction, right there?

This, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg, is one of the best. A truly interactive tale that I read over and over, in the canary-yellow chairs of the children's section in the library. (Very static-inducing, those chairs.)

The whole concept thrilled me: on each two-page spread, there's the title of an unwritten story, an intriguing caption, and the stunning picture itself. (Who doesn't adore the illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg??)

Endlessly fascinating. Even now, paging through, I can lose track of time, forget all about the Blogger screen, the post I'm writing, and instead I'm wondering where the ship is going, what Captain Tory is about (would he be gripping the boy's arm like that if he were a nice guy? doubtful), if the other six chairs had such spectacular flights, if Venice will be left standing, and where Archie Smith will end up...

and most of all, if I could take a ride on that amazing railroad-cart/sail-ship, off into the fog.

I wonder if this book is partly responsible for making me a writer in the first place.

At the very least, it's required reading for every imagination.

Recommendation: You need a deep armchair, and a good window to look out of as you muse on each spread. And maybe something simple, like really fine toast with raspberry jam, and a bit of tea. Give yourself plenty of time: though the book isn't long, the stories you hear might be.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely review! I just ordered this book for my kids!

    It seems truly entrancing.

    Read Aloud Dad