The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick Book Poster Image
Superb stories by top authors spring from surreal images.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some stories are full of educational material (e.g. Cory Doctorow's "Another Place, Another Time," which deals with the nature of time and space), or ponder age-old problems of metaphysics and reality. Others dispense cautionary tales in memorable fashion, or travel to foreign locales.

Positive Messages

While the universe has a notably peculiar sense of humor in these 14 stories, its moral compass, with rare exceptions, appears quite steady. Kindness tends to be rewarded, and the victims of awful retribution generally have it coming. Some of the tragicomic cautionary tales of kids who come to grief may lead to some interesting discussions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are some wizardly characters who wield positive powers. And several stories feature kid protagonists who must learn, collaborate, and solve problems in order to save themselves and others.


Several stories involve the matter-of-fact dispatching of villainous adults to alternate modes of being by aggressive magic, and at least one strongly suggests the murder of a family member. The authors are quite good at creating a sense of impending dread and doom when the occasion calls for it. If your kid comes to this collection from Van Allsburg's relatively sunnier books, such as The Polar Express and Jumanji, you might want to give this a read first to see if some of the more sinister or surreal moments might be too much (or, alternatively, the biggest hits of all).


One story mentions Converse All-Stars.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is a collection of stories by 14 quite different authors, featuring the art of Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express and Jumanji. These tales, in which reality is questioned and manipulated on a regular basis, run the gamut from light and fanciful to quite dark -- sometimes in the same story. Some are overtly or subtly creepy; some involve the death of family members. Others find children committing acts of violence and other magical mayhem against adults (some of whom richly deserve it) as well as bad acts rebounding on the kids who commit them. Other tales are poignant, sweet, and filled with kindness, not to mention a satisfying sense of justice triumphing under unlikely circumstances.

User Reviews

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Kid, 10 years old February 23, 2012


It is very good.In my class we did a write off of this.Very very good book.I recommend it.

What's the story?

Since 1984, the 14 titled and captioned drawings in Chris Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick -- ostensibly the work of a mysterious illustrator who left them with a publisher and vanished, never to be seen again -- have been used (by teachers and others) to induce imaginative storytelling. Evocative, surreal, sometimes sinister -- an ocean liner barging into a Venetian canal, an airborne nun in a chair -- these things call for explanation. In 1993, Stephen King wrote a story about the house blasting off from its foundation; since then 13 other authors, including Van Allsburg himself, took on the remaining images. Lemony Snicket contributed the foreword to this collection, waffling mightily as to whether the stories were in fact the work of the mysterious Burdick himself.

Is it any good?

As with any anthology that draws from multiple authors from many genres, not every story in THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK will appeal to every reader. But the drawings and their captions are as compelling as ever, the writing, by a multi-award-winning roster, is distinguished, and your kid may discover a new favorite author or two in this collection.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the pictures: What stories do they make you think of? Choose a picture and write your own story.

  • Have you read any of these authors before and liked their work? How do you like the story that one of your favorites came up with after simply looking at a particular picture?

  • Which of the stories did you like best? Why? Do you think you'll read more by this author?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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