Professor Schoenbrun | COMD3313 OL74| FA21

Discussion Week 12: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a fascinating and unusual book. It opens with an introductory letter from Chris Van Allsburg himself, explaining the book’s origins. “I first saw the drawings in this book a year ago, in the home of a man named Peter Wenders,” Van Allsburg begins. He goes on to explain that many years earlier, a man called Harris Burdick stopped by the office of Peter Wenders, who then worked for a publisher of children’s books, choosing stories and pictures to be made into books. Burdick brought one drawing from each of fourteen stories he had written as a sample for Mr. Wenders. Fascinated by the drawings, Wenders told Burdick he wanted to see the rest of his work as soon as possible. Promising to bring the stories in the next day, Burdick left—never to be seen again. The fourteen pictures he left behind—and their accompanying captions—remained in Wenders’s possession until Van Allsburg himself saw them (and the stories that Wenders’s children and their friends had long ago been inspired to write by looking at them). The mysterious pictures, writes Van Allsburg, are reproduced for the first time in the hope that they will inspire many other children to write stories as well.

Synopsis from the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Teacher’s Guide

Chris Van Allsburg’s celebrated and thought-provoking illustrations in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick have intrigued readers of all ages for the past 25 years. Each illustration highlights a critical moment of a story, accompanied only by a single line of text and a title, forcing the readers to create the rest of the tale for themselves. This book is a stunning case study in the power of using the technique of freezing a moment in time coupled with picking the right event, the right critical moment in the narrative, to drive forward the drama and storytelling of the image.

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What techniques does Van Allsburg use to tell the story?

Why are the moments he chooses so effective?



  1. Kiana Fraser-Handel

    Van Allsburg uses value, mood and still life to tell the story. These techniques help create a moment that builds suspense for the viewer. The moments Van Alluburg chooses are effective because they leave the viewers wondering what is happening or what will happening in the story.

  2. Yanxuan Lin

    The theme of the book painted by Allsburg is suspenseful, so he chose to use black and white to express the mystery. He used the difference in value to make the whole picture feel depressing and attractive at the same time, making you want to explore what the story tells in this picture.

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