The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is one of those books that shaped my childhood, filled it with wonder, and prompted many flights of imagination on my part. My mother had a copy and I remember pouring over the images and creating stories in my head as I drifted off to sleep. One teacher even had us write a story to go along with an image of our choice, I think I wrote a 20 page fantasy based on the door knob moving. That I can remember almost twenty years later this writing experience, shows what a lasting impact this book had on my life. Of course I became a librarian not a writer.
Now almost thirty years later, the mysteries of the 14 drawings of Harris Burdick are back, but this time a group of talented and well known authors have each taken one story to tell. On one level this threatens to take away some of the mystery, and the introduction by Lemony Snicket suggests that these might be the real tales, dropped off by Burdick for noted children’s authors to find. But after reading them, I’m not sure that all of the mystery is explained away in these stories.
While the stories are all very different, in tone, style, and subject, they were mostly well written and entertaining. The only one I struggled with was the first one, by Tabitha King, where I had a hard time following what was going on. That said, only one really seemed a perfect fit for the illustration, and that one was written by the illustrator. The other stories seemed to me to be one explanation of the illustration, but many times I’d read the story and then study the illustration and say “well, what about that part?” This, I think is a good thing. It would be a sad thing if these stories became the definitive answer to the mysteries of these images. The fact that someone could read these stories and say, “well, I would tell the story different,” is a good thing!
Among my favorite of the stories were Sherman Alexie’s funny and grim story of two strange siblings, Jules Fieffer’s dark tale of a children’s author consumed in a madness of his own making, Lois Lowry and Katie DiCamillo’s historical fiction stories based on the images, and M.T. Anderson’s darkly mysterious suburbia.
Definitely a recommended read, especially for children’s librarians who grew up loving the original.