Fourteen award-winning authors craft stories to accompany the captioned pictures from Van Allsburg’s 1984 enigma, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
That title contained 14 exquisitely rendered pencil drawings, purportedly deposited with an editor by their self-ascribed creator. Promising to return with companion texts, Burdick disappeared instead, leaving a generation of readers to puzzle over the incongruous illustrations. United only by the sense of macabre disequilibrium permeating each illustration, this volume’s stories vary in approach and effectiveness. Jules Feiffer delivers a clever but self-aggrandizing fable about a picture book author/illustrator whose increasingly mad attachment to his characters signals his demise. Jon Scieszka’s intentionally clichéd “Under the Rug” seems shallow and dashed-off compared to deeply imagined pieces like M.T. Anderson’s twitchily metaphysical “Just Desert.” Kate DiCamillo’s adroit epistolary tale, set on the World War II home front, uses the image of an escaping wallpaper bird as the touchstone for a traumatized girl’s breakthrough beyond silence and fear. Cory Doctorow’s time-space ramble centers on four adventuring children, ignoring that the accompanying drawing depicts the travelers as two children, a thick-set woman and a derby-hatted man. Linda Sue Park’s “The Harp” deftly directs charming characters in parallel plots to a meshed, triply happy ending, and Lois Lowry dazzles with a sophisticated meditation on “The Seven Chairs,” wherein mid-century Catholicism bows beneath the archetypal (and, perhaps, renascent) rise of women.
Engaging, with strokes of brilliance. (new and original introductions, author bios) (Fiction. 8-13)