Books by Chris Van Allsburg

Released: Nov. 4, 2014

"Save this one for non-animal lovers. (Picture book. 5-8)"
A picture book about the difficult life of a pet hamster. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 25, 2011

"Engaging, with strokes of brilliance. (new and original introductions, author bios) (Fiction. 8-13)"
Fourteen award-winning authors craft stories to accompany the captioned pictures from Van Allsburg's 1984 enigma, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.Read full book review >
QUEEN OF THE FALLS by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: April 4, 2011

Darkly moody illustrations capture a daredevil's successful stunt. In 1901, "short, plump, and fussy" Annie Edson Taylor is 62 years old. Her charm school folds, and she fears "the poorhouse, an unhappy place where old people without money or a family… live out their years." Annie's no thrill-seeker, just astoundingly matter-of-fact and audacious—so she decides to be the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. As Annie designs her own barrel, "with iron bands wrapped around it" and a leather belt and metal handles inside, Van Allsburg uses scale and angle for drama. Annie meticulously squints down an oak plank to choose the best one; a close-up of a broken egg oozing out of a can speaks volumes about Annie's potential experience. The highly skilled black-and-antique-cream drawings have a bleak, unsettling vibe, matching first the danger of the feat and then Annie's disappointment at the lack of financial profit, for this was to be her road to security. On tour, audiences are skeptical or bored to see that "the fearless ‘Queen of the Falls' [is] a little old lady." At the end, Annie claims contentment, but it's hard to believe; still, daredevil fans will appreciate the triumphant stunt and the details of how it worked. An odd, unsettling meditation on fame. (author's note, bibliography, list of barrel riders) (Informational picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
PROBUDITI! by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Oct. 30, 2006

A rare outing from Van Allsburg, featuring as smooth a case of payback as ever was. Calvin returns from watching a hypnotist's act determined to visit yet another torment on his beleaguered little sister, Trudy, by hypnotizing her. His delight at seeing her barking loudly and capering about like a dog changes to dismay, however, when she fails to snap out of it on command, and then to deep gloom when his frantic efforts to waken her earn him supper-less exile to his room. With sepia-toned, characteristic photorealism, Van Allsburg views his African-American characters from low angles and zeroes in on their animated faces. Trudy-as-a-dog is not only particularly hilarious, with glassy eyes and hanging tongue, but totally convincing, too—until, that is, she makes a sly remark at the end. Smaller siblings everywhere will applaud the elegant way she turns the tables on her big brother. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
ZATHURA by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Oct. 28, 2002

A trite, knock-off sequel to Jumanji (1981). The "Jumanji" box distracts Walter Budwing away from beating up on his little brother Danny, but it's Danny who discovers the Zathura board inside—and in no time, Earth is far behind, a meteor has smashed through the roof, and a reptilian Zyborg pirate is crawling through the hole. Each throw of the dice brings an ominous new development, portrayed in grainy, penciled freeze frames featuring sculptured-looking figures in constricted, almost claustrophobic settings. The angles of view are, as always, wonderfully dramatic, but not only is much of the finer detail that contributed to Jumanji's astonishing realism missing, the spectacular damage being done to the Budwings' house as the game progresses is, by and large, only glimpsed around the picture edges. Naturally, having had his bacon repeatedly saved by his younger sibling's quick thinking, once Walter falls through a black hole to a time preceding the game's start, his attitude toward Danny undergoes a sudden, radical transformation. Van Allsburg's imagination usually soars right along with his accomplished art—but here, both are just running in place. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
THE VEIL OF SNOWS by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

The distinguished collaborators polish off a trilogy that began with Swan Lake (1989) and continued in A City in Winter (1996). Polish is the operative word; Helprin's unnamed narrator illuminates this dark, poignant story with characteristically refulgent prose, to which Van Allsburg's 13 color scenes of theatrically posed, golden-toned figures add sparkling elegance. A troubled peace follows the usurper's flight behind the remote Veil of Snows, and he soon returns to shatter the Queen's army, kill her husband (seemingly), and oppose her and her infant son with two million men. After a bitter siege, the Queen and her last 100,000 loyal followers escape the capital city and disperse into the mountains, where she is pursued and killed. Helprin injects a garishly satiric hue into this tale by filling it with corpulent, venial, opportunistic Tookisheims, a family whose government is headed by the Duke, a media mogul whose papers are relentlessly critical of the Queen, and Branco, who "makes the talking boxes that take the place of books." After 25 years of waiting beside the Veil, the narrator symbolically casts away the last of his hope—just as the Queen's husband and grown son march out of the' mists at the head of a new army. As with the previous books, the language, imagery, and wit are aimed at sophisticated sensibilities; Helprin's bottomless imagination and Van Allsburg's monumental visual style create a collaboration that glitters with star quality. (Fiction. 11-14) Read full book review >
A CITY IN WINTER by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1996

Two great fantasists weave threads teased from their previous collaboration, Swan Lake (1989), into a stylish tale of loyalty and rebellion set in a city of Brobdingnagian proportions. Having been raised in secret by her beloved tutor, a princess sets out to confront the brutal upstart who killed her parents and grandparents. She finds in his capitol a million loyalists and former soldiers, all united by an oath of rebellion, waiting for a leader whose coming, a prophecy claims, will be heralded by a dimmed sun and a burning angel. Helprin's whimsical tone and satiric character studies will appeal mostly to adults, but the sheer scale of the city he envisions will enthrall readers of any age; just to get into the palace, the princess becomes one of three thousand employees in the yam section (not to be confused with those for potatoes, rices, and meat pie crusts) of the starch kitchens, later working her way up to flower refresher in one of the smaller dining rooms (for "only a thousand guests"). Van Allsburg's 13 tableaux vary in style: Some are drawn and painted with exquisite precision, others a bit more free in line and composition. The usurper is a towering, scarred figure; the princess is a small, tidy child positively aglow with regal self-possession. As this is framed as a memoir, the outcome is never in doubt; readers will take the most pleasure here not from the plot, but from the richly imagined details. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
BAD DAY AT RIVERBEND by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Riverbend is a tiny town in the heart of the Wild West where nothing interesting ever happens. The town and its population are deftly drawn in black outlines on a white background. One day a driverless stagecoach rolls into town, its horses covered with ``great stripes of some kind of shiny, greasy slime.'' (Actually, they are red crayon squiggles.) The townsfolk are alarmed and the sheriff bravely rides off to find the driver; sure enough, he's covered with the same stuff. A posse is organized; when they come upon a stick-figure cowboy (in red crayon), they think he's the perpetrator and prepare to shoot him down. Just then, the action freezes: A realistically rendered, finely painted hand appears, holding a crayon, and doodles on them, too. The perspective changes, and readers see a little girl drawing in a book; on the last page, she exits the room, leaving The Cowboy Coloring Book behind. The danger facing all self-referential books is that the premise will overshadow its realization. But Van Allsburg's book is remarkably imaginative in its conception precisely because the premise is not only clever, but proves fertile in a completely unexpected way. Van Allsburg demonstrates in a self-conscious—and tempered—way what happens when two different drawing styles (coloring-book outlines, generally created by adults, and children's doodles) overlap, and when two genres (an entertaining Western adventure and a coloring book) meet. It's a book that starts with one point of view and steps into another. The average bildungsroman accomplishes this kind of transition in several hundred pages; Van Allsburg does it in 32, and leaves the flower of children's bookmaking blooming in the desert town of Riverbend. (Picture book. 2-8) Read full book review >
THE SWEETEST FIG by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

Marcel has the misfortune of belonging to a totally self- absorbed, repressive, and humorless Parisian dentist—one M. Bibot—who is without compassion for his dog (first seen menaced by a disciplinary newspaper) or his patients: he smirks with sadistic pleasure while extracting a tooth and withholds a painkiller from one sufferer when she offers, in lieu of money, two figs that ``can make your dreams come true.'' Still, when his dream does come true after he eats one fig (it's mortifying—he finds himself in his underwear in the street, while the Eiffel Tower ``droop[s] over as if it were made of soft rubber''), Bibot is filled with greedy anticipation; he's determined to dream a dream that will make him ``the richest man on earth.'' But justice remains poetic. Marcel snitches the other fig, and next morning Bibot discovers just what kind of vengeance the dog has chosen to exact. Children amused by the offbeat tale will probably miss its adult overtones, but Van Allsburg's soft, luminous illustrations, in warm tones of brown refined with deeper grays, should please everyone. His precisely rounded caricature of the dentist is as merciless as the supercilious man himself, while the masterful play of patterns—elegant Parisian stonework glimpsed from a roomful of antiseptic modern furniture, the tower pointing down at the fleeing dentist, the short-legged dog struggling against a taut leash on a polished stair—is delightful. Rather wickedly clever, but fun. (Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
THE WIDOW'S BROOM by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Sept. 28, 1992

It's a witch's broom, but it's old and loses the power to fly, dumping its owner in the Widow Shaw's garden. When the witch departs, the broom stays with the widow, who at first is frightened when it not only sweeps but chops wood and feeds chickens; but she comes to appreciate it. Not so neighbor Spivey, a classic seeker after evil to rout out. With other farmers, Spivey comes one night to get rid of the broom; reluctantly, the widow tells them where it is and they literally burn it at the stake. Later, she reports seeing the broom's ghost. In a deliciously enigmatic ending, the broom proves to be alive and well—but whether by its own power or the widow's wits is left to surmise. In the b&w technique of his earliest books, Van Allsburg uses subtly graduated gray and cream to bring out the eerie, surreal quality of the story, his spare detail setting it in a credulous past—though the message about the destructive fear aroused by mavericks is universal. One of Van Allsburg's best: an intriguing, well-told tale with elegantly structured art, resonant with significance and lightened with sly humor. (Picture book. 5+) Read full book review >
THE WRETCHED STONE by Chris Van Allsburg
Released: Oct. 1, 1991

The two-time Caldecott winner continues the didactic vein of Just a Dream (1990). Captain Hope records the eerie events during a voyage of the Rita Anne. His crew is hard-working and ``accomplished in other ways''—they enjoy reading, music, and storytelling. Even so, after they stop on an island and bring back a mysterious rock with one smooth face that gives off a ``peculiar light,'' the men do nothing but watch it. Mesmerized, they sit transfixed until they are transformed into apes who don't even help when the ship is disabled in a storm. So, fortunately, is the stone, and Hope finds that the men are gradually returned to themselves as he reads to them. The artist's elegantly structured, richly shadowed paintings suggest more enigmatic depth than the story delivers, while the starkly boxed text interrupts the visual flow of each spread. Even so, a handsome setting for a valuable message, presented with some imagination and humor. (Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >
SWAN LAKE by Mark Helprin
Released: Oct. 1, 1989

An elaborate expansion and transformation of the ballet, by the author of a critically acclaimed fantasy/novel for adults, A Winter's Tale (1983). Helprin goes well beyond the familiar story. His narrator—tutor/father-surrogate to the prince—tells the tragic tale to a small gift who proves to be another pivotal new character. Additions to the plot include the murder by Van Rothbart of Odette's parents and the possibility that Odile is the prince's half-sister. And though his telling has the powerful appeal of a stark fairy-tale world, Helprin sets it in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and eliminates the literal magical transformations. His language is rich, ornamented, and full of ideas and images that are difficult as well as amusing, a playful mixture of whimsy and irony probably of most interest to adults—though capable young people may also find it fascinating. Van Allsburg's 14 elegantly structured paintings, spare and luminous, extend the aura of a world of the imagination, outside time. The beautifully planned book also includes Van Allsburg's ornamental designs on every page. Sure to appeal to the carriage trade, this should also win a small following well beyond this year's fashionable popularity. Read full book review >

Having littered, scoffed at a friend's newly planted tree, and failed to sort his trash, Walter dreams of a future buried in garbage, with even the Grand Canyon hidden by smog. No enigmatic subtext here, just the unabashed message—and Van Allsburg's lucid, powerfully composed art doing what it's supposed to: making graphic Pogo's plaint that "We have met the enemy and he is us." Read full book review >