I was at a craft fair this past weekend in Clayton, Ga where I sold art and jewelry. I also brought a stack of Acorn and Button books. My goal was to sell at least 10. I sold 9 which is pretty close. I’m happy.
In my search for books on imagination, I came across a very unusual picture book titled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. I found The Mysteries of Harris Burrdick to be both intriguing and a little unsettling.
The book was published in 1984 and is comprised of 14 illustrations with captions. Chris Van Allsburg gives his own account of discovering the illustrations in the book’s Introduction:
“I first saw the drawings in this book a year ago, in the house of a man named Peter Wenders. Though Mr. Wenders is retired now, he once worked for a children's book publisher, choosing the stories and pictures that would be turned into books.
Thirty years ago a man called at Peter Wenders' office, introducing himself as Harris Burdick. Mr. Burdick explained that he had written fourteen stories and had drawn many pictures for each one. He'd brought with him just one drawing from each story, to see if Wenders liked his work.
Peter Wenders was fascinated by the drawings. He told Burdick he would like to read the stories that went with them as soon as possible. The artist agreed to bring the stories the next morning. He left the fourteen drawings with Wenders. But he did not return the next day. Or the day after that. Harris Burdick was never heard from again. Over the years, Wenders tried to find out who Burdick was and what had happened to him, but he discovered nothing. To this day, Harris Burdick remains a complete mystery.”
Below are six out of the fourteen illustrations from the book. Over the years, teachers have used these as writing prompts for their students. The illustrations have a whimsical yet somber feel to them. Some feel slightly ominous. I think the paradoxical nature of the work makes it interesting. I find the captions brilliant. Talk about hooks! Suffice it to say the book is not intended for younger children. It’s a great resource for middle grade children on up.
In any case, here they are.
Acorn and Button had definite reactions to some of the illustrations. Button found Another Place, Another Time fascinating. He thought the merging of railroad track and water ingenious. He wanted to pack his bags immediately and head out to that ‘land of answers.’
Acorn didn’t care for the Uninvited Guests with the turning doorknob, but he liked the spelling caterpillars in Oscar and Alphonse.
I’m interested in your thoughts. Have you heard of this book before? What kind of feelings do the illustrations provoke? Do the captions make you want to read more? Let me know.