There is an amazing book which I find myself reaching for whether I have really able writers or those who struggle because I know it will inspire some fabulous writing. 'The Mysteries of Harris Burdick' by Chris van Allsburg is the most wonderful book- a real gift for any teacher- offering something a bit different and really encouraging children to use their imaginations.
For anyone who doesn't know the book, it is a picture book with a difference. There is even a story behind the book to add to its appeal! The reader is told that a man called Harris Burdick left a series of images, each with a title and first line, with a publisher - and then disappeared! This story alone is enough to capture the attention of any class. What follows then is a series of illustrations. Each of the images is quite stunning- some are scary, some are bizarre- all are fascinating and make the person looking at them start to ask questions.
And this is the beauty of this book! Children start to tell their own stories as soon as they see the pictures. They ask and answer questions, building on each others' ideas, spotting tiny details and creating back stories. My favourite is entitled 'Mr Linden's Library'. The picture shows a female figure, lying in bed, an open book on the bed beside her. From the book, a plant is growing, creeping across her arm. The first line reads:
He had warned her about the book.
Now it was too late.
Brilliant stuff! There are fourteen illustrations, offering story telling and writing opportunities. And it's not just children this book has inspired. In 2011, another book came out: 'The Chronicles of Harris Burdick' contains stories written by fourteen 'amazing authors', each of whom has selected one of the pictures and written a story based on it. Children love it when their stories are made into 'Chronicles' books and they can compare their ideas with those of famous writers.
Chris van Allsburg is responsible for many fabulous picture books- The Polar Express and Jumanji are perhaps his best known- but 'The Mysteries of Harris Burdick' is the one which I would suggest all teachers should have a copy of!
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick Chris van Allsburg
Andersen Press ISBN: 978-1849392792
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick Chris van Allsburg
Andersen Press ISBN: 978-1849394598