Eighteen years ago, Chris Van Allsburg published The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, a 32-page picture book, with 14 titled pictures, each labeled by one line of text. Suppooooosedly, Van Allsburg found the drawings in the office of one Peter Wenders, a children’s book publisher, who told him they had arrived in the hands of Harris Burdick, who brought them in to see if the publisher would like them and promised to return the next day with the full stories. BUT THEN HE DISAPPEARED, never to be seen again. So, knowing a good thing when he sees it, Van Allsburg published them drawings on his own. (You know this is a big ploy, right? There’s no Harris Burdick or Peter Wenders. You know this.)
Seventeen years ago, as part of a second grade class assignment, I finished writing Mr. Burdick’s story “Under the Rug” with a genius, twisting narrative, including some aliens.
Last year, Jon Scieszka rewrote my story, in a mildly less exciting way. Thirteen others, including Van Allsburg himself, Sherman Alexie, Walter Dean Myers, Lois Lowry, and Kate DiCamillo, contributed to complete Burdick’s fantastical and incredible book. This. is. awesome. It’s like my childhood dreams come true. I think my favorite is Stephen King’s expansion of “The House on Maple Street.” It’s imaginative and powerful and complicated and full of heart.
One thing: In most libraries, it seems to have a big “J” label on the spine, placing it in the children’s section, and I’m not sure it belongs there. I’m not saying there aren’t kids who would appreciate it, but I think this book is more directed toward the adults like me, who grew up with Harris Burdick, imagining the possible stories to accompany his pictures. Some of them are pretty dark, pretty elaborate, and the narratives may go over kids’ heads. But if, like me, you grew up with these images floating around in your head, go get this short story collection and indulge yourself.