The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

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An inspired collection of short stories by an all-star cast of best-selling storytellers based on the thought-provoking illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
For more than twenty-five years, the illustrations in the extraordinary Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg have intrigued and entertained readers of all ages. Thousands of children have been inspired to weave their own stories to go ...

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The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

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An inspired collection of short stories by an all-star cast of best-selling storytellers based on the thought-provoking illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
For more than twenty-five years, the illustrations in the extraordinary Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg have intrigued and entertained readers of all ages. Thousands of children have been inspired to weave their own stories to go with these enigmatic pictures. Now we’ve asked some of our very best storytellers to spin the tales. Enter The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to gather this incredible compendium of stories: mysterious, funny, creepy, poignant, these are tales you won’t soon forget.
This inspired collection of short stories features many remarkable, best-selling authors in the worlds of both adult and children's literature: Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson, Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow, Jules Feiffer, Stephen King, Tabitha King, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, Louis Sachar, Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket, and Chris Van Allsburg himself.

     Van Allsburg's Harris Burdick illustrations have evoked such wonderment and imagination since Harris Burdick's original publication in 1984; many have speculated or have woven their own stories to go with his images. More than ever, the illustrations send off their eerie call for text and continue to compel and pick at the reader's brain for a backstory—a threaded tale behind the image. In this book, we've collected some of the best storytellers to spin them.

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Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
Stories of zombies and vampires may be the obvious choice for a Halloween read, but the 14 surreal tales in this book offer a far more subtle and nape-tingling experience…All these tales are a pleasure to ponder.
—The Washington Post
Leonard S. Marcus
There are no clunkers here. Each contribution has its own telltale flavor of menace, leaving readers to discover their favorites.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, published in 1984, paired foreboding sentences with cryptic, highly detailed charcoal-pencil illustrations. With mostly stimulating, sometimes conventional results, seasoned authors (and Van Allsburg himself) play the game children have for decades, incorporating the sentences and visual cues into new stories (and one old one, Stephen King's "The House on Maple Street") that expand on the original's enigmas. The liveliest entries pick up on Van Allsburg's haunting ambiguity: Jon Scieszka ends with a cliffhanger, Gregory Maguire weaves a complex tale of magic, and M.T. Anderson concocts a chilling Halloween offering. For a lakeside picture of two children, Sherman Alexie writes a sinister narrative about exasperating twins who pretend to have a third sibling, until their creepy prank backfires. In quieter examples, Walter Dean Myers describes an dying man's library and a girl's love of books, while Kate DiCamillo finds a wartime story of longing in an image of wallpaper missing one bird ("It all began when someone left the window open"). This star-studded exercise in creative writing tests the wits of favorite authors and shows readers how even the big shots hone their craft. Ages 10–14. (Oct.)
From the Publisher

“Engaging, with strokes of brilliance”—Kirkus

“This star-studded exercise in creative writing tests the wits of favorite authors and shows readers how even the big shots hone their craft.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The stories embrace a range of styles and subjects, but, like their enigmatic and mysterious inspirations, each touches on the strange, the odd, and the fantastic.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“While the stories are distinct—by turns funny, sinister, and touching—they have much in common, sharing an arch tone, a curious metaphysicality, and some familiar folk-tale tropes, and the authors’ commitment to the original conceit gives the volume additional cohesion.”—Booklist

VOYA - Deena Lipomi
Over twenty-five years ago, a man named Harris Burdick visited children's book publisher, Peter Wenders, and showed him fourteen drawings that included titles and captions. He asked Wenders if he would be interested in reading the associated stories. Wenders enthusiastically agreed, but Burdick did not return. In fact, Burdick disappeared. Today, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is a compilation of stories written by fourteen authors that accompany the original Burdick illustrations. According to the introduction by Lemony Snicket, these stories may have been written by Burdick himself and the given authors are decoys. The mystery of Harris Burdick continues. This enjoyable short story collection will entertain teens who remember reading The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Houghton Mifflin, 1984) picture book as a child, or those seeking to read a quality, quick science fiction or fantasy story. Van Allsburg's illustrations are as captivating today as they were twenty-seven years ago, and it is fun see how the authors tie the elements of the pictures into their stories. Gems include the humorous "Under the Rug" by Jon Scieszka, the fairy tale "The Harp" by Linda Sue Park, the historical "The Third-Floor Bedroom" by Kate DiCamillo, and the science fiction "Just Dessert" by M. T. Anderson. Fans of any of the authors' other works should give this collection a try. Reviewer: Deena Lipomi
Children's Literature - Justina Engebretson
Where can one find the tale of a glowing pumpkin or hear the story of the nun who likes to practice rising? Where might one imagine a page in a book that keeps on changing every time it is read or wallpaper that comes to life like the flapping of a bird's wings? Only inside this middle reader will one find such enchanting, mysterious tales. The accompanying illustrations tell a story all their own and serve to make the reader pause and wonder what mystery is lurking within the picture. This also makes for a page-turning effect, drawing the reader on to learn each author's interpretation of the illustration. Children of many ages who enjoy suspense and mystery will love this collection of tales. Teachers might find this book to be of educational value particularly for inspiring imaginative writing and creative thought. As a writing activity, a teacher might assign each student a picture and allow them to create their own story. The stories are short enough that teachers could read them in one class setting, and the engaging content is sure to hold the attention of most students, even those who struggle with a short attention span. Overall, this collection of tales will make a great addition to any bookshelf. Reviewer: Justina Engebretson
School Library Journal - Audio
Gr 5–8—For 27 years, the mystery that is Harris Burdick and his 14 enigmatic illustrations (The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, Houghton Mifflin, 1984) has intrigued audiences of all ages, inspiring the creation of countless fan-written stories. Among those we can now count the contributions of an all-star cast of authors whose tales tell the stories that Burdick was never able to share. Spearheaded by Chris Van Allsburg, this collection (Houghton Mifflin, 2011) of creepy, humorous, and sometimes spine-chilling stories remains true to the artwork that inspired them. Whether it is Sherman Alexie's mean-spirited twins getting their comeuppance in "Strange Day in July"or Kate DiCamillo's serene epistolary telling of "The Third-Floor Bedroom," narrator Cassandra Campbell breathes life into each unique character, even those who have been dead for decades, such as Louis Sachar's "Captain Tory." Distinctive and lyrical, Campbell's voice effortlessly draws listeners into the tales with her cadence and pacing and provides the eclectic collection with cohesion. A solid addition to public and school libraries that will have listeners eagerly looking for the book that inspired it all.—Audrey Sumser, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Mayfield, OH
School Library Journal
Gr 5–9—Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Houghton, 1984) has taken on a life of its own in the years since its original publication. The mysterious pictures, accompanied only by a title and a caption, have captivated many young readers to create their own stories. Chronicles presents stories to go with the images by a who's who of writers for children and young adults-and adults if you count Stephen King. His "The House on Maple Street" is actually one of the strongest selections, reprinted here from one of his short story collections in 1993. In this tale, children maneuver their cruel stepfather into the titular house just prior to the perfect lift off. It's fully realized with deftly drawn characters. Also memorable is Lois Lowry's "The Seven Chairs," about a nun who learns that she can "rise," along with seven special chairs. M. T. Anderson's "Just Desert" (the picture with the glowing pumpkin) is an especially brilliant take about a boy who just may be the only person on Earth with everything being created just for him. Van Allsburg's "Oscar and Alphonse" has an appropriately heartbreaking ending. The rest of the collection is hit or miss. Cory Doctorow's "Another Place, Another Time" is among the most disappointing, as he takes what is arguably the most iconic image in the book and turns it into an unintelligible mumbo jumbo of time-travel jargon. Chronicles turns out to be a mixed bag, but at the same time it is a potent reminder of the brilliance of Van Allsburg's original creation.—Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO
Kirkus Reviews

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)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455839490
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 2.12 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Van Allsburg is the winner of two Caldecott Medals, for Jumanji and The Polar Express, as well as the recipient of a Caldecott Honor Book for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. The author and illustrator of numerous picture books for children, he has also been awarded the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children's literature. In 1982, Jumanji won the National Book Award and in 1996, it was made into a popular feature film. Chris Van Allsburg was formerly an instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design. He lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two children.


Multiple Caldecott Medal winner Chris Van Allsburg grew up in the 1950s in and around Grand Rapids, Michigan. He majored in sculpture at the University of Michigan's College of Architecture & Design and graduated in 1972. He received his M.F.A. in 1975 from Rhode Island School of Design.

After graduate school, Van Allsburgh set up a sculpture studio in Providence, married and settled in the area, and began exhibiting his work in New York City and throughout New England. Around the same time, he became interested in drawing. His wife, Lisa, encouraged him to pursue children's book illustration, putting him in contact with her friend David Macauley, a successful artist and author. Macauley's editor at Houghton Mifflin was impressed by Van Allsburgh's work and advised him to try his hand at illustrating a story of his own. His maiden effort, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, was published in 1979 and received a Caldecott Honor Medal.

Since that auspicious beginning, Van Allsburgh has gone on to produce a string of wonderfully inventive, critically acclaimed, and award-winning books. He gathers inspiration from unlikely quarters -- the progress of ants across a kitchen counter, crayon streaks in a child's coloring book, a children's board game come to life -- and executes his ideas on a provocative but surefire "What if..." principle.

Among his many awards are two Caldecott Medals -- one for Jumanji, written in 1982 and the other for 1985's The Polar Express; a National Book Award (also for Jumanji); and the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children's literature.

Good To Know

Van Allsburg's grandfather owned and operated the East End Creamery and delivered milk and milk products to homes around the Grand Rapids area in yellow and blue trucks.

One of Van Allsburg's childhood homes was a big, Tudor-styled house on a wide, tree-lined street. He used the street as a model for the cover art of what is arguably his most famous book, The Polar Express.

Because so many students at Van Allsburg's high school excelled academically, representatives from the University of Michigan would visit each year to interview interested seniors and admit them on the spot if they met qualifications. During his senior year, Van Allsburg was told about the art program affiliated with the University's College of Architecture & Design and thought it sounded like fun. Although he had never had any formal art classes, he fibbed to the admissions officer, saying he had taken private lessons outside of school.

Two of Van Allsburg's bestselling books, Jumanji and The Polar Express, were subsequently turned into blockbuster movies.

Van Allsburg is not your typical "feel good" children's author. He has been known to handle darker themes, and his stories often involve bizarre worlds and dreamscapes.

In all his stories, Van Allsburg inserts a little white bull terrier modeled after a real-life dog owned by his brother-in-law. (Another popular children's author, David Shannon, does the same thing, but Shannon's pup is a Westie!)

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    1. Hometown:
      Providence, Rhode Island
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 18, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      Grand Rapids, Michigan
    1. Education:
      University of Michigan College of Architecture & Design, 1972; Rhode Island School of Design, MFA, 1975
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


Is there any author more mysterious than Harris Burdick?

Modesty prevents me from answering this rhetorical question, but the fact remains that Harris Burdick has cast a long and strange shadow across the reading world, not unlike a man, lit by the moon, hiding in the branches of a tree, staring through a window and holding a rare and sinister object, who cast a long and strange shadow across your bedroom wall just last night.

The story of Harris Burdick is a story everybody knows, though there is hardly anything to be known about him. More than twenty-five years ago, a man named Peter Wenders was visited by a stranger who introduced himself as Harris Burdick and who left behind fourteen fascinating drawings with equally if not more fascinating captions, promising to return the next day with more illustrations and the stories to match. Mr. Wenders never saw him again, and for years readers have pored breathlessly over Mr. Burdick’s oeuvre, a phrase that here means "looked at the drawings, read the captions, and tried to think what the stories might be like." The result has been an enormous collection of stories, produced by readers all over the globe, imagining worlds of which Mr. Burdick gave us only a glimpse.

I always had a theory regarding Mr. Burdick’s disappearance, however, that I have lacked the courage to share until today. It seemed to me that the mysterious author was hiding—but not in the places people usually hide, such as underneath the bed or behind the coats in the closet or in the middle of a field covered in a blanket that looks like grass. Mr. Burdick likely hid among his cohorts, a word that here means "other people in his line of work." Rather than give any more of his work to Mr. Wenders, Mr. Burdick might have distributed his stories, over a period of many years, among his comrades in literature. Perhaps he gave them as gifts in acknowledgment of their allowing him to hide in their homes. Perhaps he hid them in their guest rooms in the hopes that they would never be found. In any case, it was always my hope that the rest of Mr. Burdick’s work would surface, even if the mysteries of Mr. Burdick—who by now is either very old, quite dead, or both—remained unsolved.

This book, then, is suspicious. The stories you find here may have been written, as so many Burdick stories have been written, as the guesswork of authors drawn to Mr. Burdick’s striking images and captions. But I believe these are the actual stories written by Harris Burdick, given by Burdick to the various authors who are now pretending to have written them. I have no proof of this theory, but when I questioned the authors involved, their answers did nothing to change my mind. Sherman Alexie told me it was none of my business. Jules Feiffer told me it was none of my concern. Lois Lowry told me she’d never heard anything so ridiculous in all her life. Louis Sachar told me he’d heard something equally ridiculous but that it was a very long time ago. Kate DiCamillo told me to talk to her lawyer. M. T. Anderson told me to talk to his doctor. Tabitha King told me to talk to her husband. Stephen King told me to talk to his wife. Cory Doctorow told me I should ask Walter Dean Myers, who told me to go bother Linda Sue Park, who directed me to Gregory Maguire, who told me that he had a special message from Chris Van Allsburg, which was to go away and leave him alone and stop talking about Harris Burdick. Finally, Jon Scieszka told me that he would be happy to answer my questions, and to please come in and have some ice cream, and then after a long pause he fled through the window and left me alone and it turned out to be sherbet.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps these stories were written by Harris Burdick and perhaps they were not. Either way, the mysteries of Harris Burdick continue, and if you open this book, you will likely be mystified yourself. As you reread the stories, stare at the images, and ponder the mysteries of Harris Burdick, you will find yourself in a mystery that joins so many authors and readers together in breathless wonder.


It all began when someone left the window open.

Kate DiCamillo

MARCH 28, 1944

Dear Martin,

I am a prisoner. Did you know that this would happen when you put me on the train to her? She has very fat ankles, Martin. You insist that she is our aunt, but I don’t believe that it’s possible for me to be related to someone with such fat ankles. And I’m not lying: I am a prisoner! She locks me in this room. She has a key that she keeps in her apron and she uses it to lock the door behind her; and after the door is locked, she rattles the doorknob, checking herself. I can feel the rattling of that doorknob in my teeth. I have extremely sensitive teeth. I don’t know if you remember this about me. Sometimes I worry that you won’t remember me at all.

In any case, you might like to know that the room (my prison!) is on the third floor. I can see mountains. There is some consolation in that (the seeing of mountains), but not enough that you should think I feel cheerful. I don’t. I feel abandoned. In fact, my feelings of abandonment are at this very moment so profoundly overwhelming that I am forced to bring this letter to a close. Mrs. Bullwhyte taught us that all good letters should end with a summation, followed by an offering of good wishes. Here is my summation: I am a prisoner. The "relative" who is keeping me prisoner has fat ankles. Also, I didn’t mention it earlier, but I am sick. Here are my good wishes for you: I hope you don’t get shot.

Cordially, your sister,

Pearlie George Lamott

P.S. What do they feed you in the army? Who feeds you? I am a good cook. I could have taken care of myself while you were away.

P.P.S. I didn’t bat an eye when Ma left, did I? I expected it, Martin. But I did not ever expect that you would leave me.

MARCH 29, 1944

Dear Martin,

Here is a sketch of the wallpaper in my prison. As you can see, there is a bird and then another bird and then another bird and then another bird. There is a vine and then another vine and then another vine and then another vine (although it could all be the same vine; it’s impossible to tell for certain and I’ve given up trying). There is a word for this wallpaper and that word (one of Mrs. Bullwhyte’s vocabulary words, which she would be happy to see me make proper use of) is relentless. The wallpaper is so relentless that when I close my eyes against it, I still see it. Even if I weren’t locked in this room, I would feel as if I were imprisoned here due to the relentlessness of the wallpaper. It’s as if the whole room is under the spell of some witch (a witch with fat ankles). Do you know that once Mrs. Bullwhyte said about me (in front of the whole class) that she has never known a child with such a propensity for verbiage? It pleased me inordinately when she said that. But I must tell you that since I have arrived here, I have not spoken one word. Not one, Martin. Bringing this letter to a close, I will say, in summation, that I am caught in the lair of a witch. My good wishes to you (the recipient of this letter) are that I continue to hope you don’t get shot.

Your sister,

Pearlie George Lamott

P.S. You should know that I am very sick. This happened when I set out to try to find you. I was outside for one full night and it was very rainy and I slept in the crook of a tree and I caught a cold. (Mrs. Bullwhyte said that it is a superstition, an old wives’ tale, that you can catch cold from merely being cold. I am sorry to disappoint her, but that is what happened to me.) I didn’t believe when I set out to find you that I would actually find you. But I felt duty-bound to look. I want to be clear. (Mrs. Bullwhyte said that we should always strive for clarity of language, as it is a gift to our reader.) So here I am, being clear, Martin: I wasn’t running away. I was running toward.

P.P.S. I wonder if those wallpaper birds feel as trapped as I do. It’s hard for me to breathe in here.

MARCH 30, 1944

Dear Martin,

Today the doctor came. Don’t ask me his name. I can’t remember it; but I think it begins with an F. All I can tell you for certain is that he is a nose whistler. Various and assorted tunes came out of his nose as he examined me. At one point, he got through most of "Begin the Beguine," although I’m not sure he intended any tune at all. He does not, by nature, seem like the kind of man who likes a song. Dour is the Bullwhyte vocabulary the third-floor bedroom word that could be properly used to describe him. He listened for a long time to my lungs, but I don’t know how he could have heard anything at all over the whistling of his own nose. In any case, I believe that he is looking in the wrong place, as whatever is wrong with me has nothing at all to do with my lungs. The only good that came of his visit is that he said I must have fresh air, and so the window in my room has been opened. Mrs. Bullwhyte once read us a story that started with the words "It all began when someone left the window open." I can’t remember a thing that happened in that story. But I’ve been singing those words to myself now like a song, "It all began, it all began, it all began when someone left the window open." I have never smelled air so sweet, Martin. If I could, I would fly away. Not toward. Away.

Your sister,


P.S. Instead of a summation, I’m offering this interesting piece of information. I guess it is best that you hear it from me (as opposed to hearing it from "Aunt" Hazel). I bit the doctor. It surprised everyone. It surprised even me. He provoked me. He accused me of being feral. "Has she been raised by wolves?" he said when I refused to answer his questions. She (the fat-ankled "Aunt" Hazel) tried to defend me. She said that I was, for all intents and purposes, an orphan. The doctor said that that was absolutely no excuse, and that at twelve years of age I was almost grown and should act like an adult and speak when spoken to.

In any case, that is neither here nor there (as Mrs. Bullwhyte said to me often enough when I rambled on attempting to explain something that turned out not to be explainable at all). What matters is that I thought I would live up to the doctor’s expectations of me and act as if I were raised by wolves, and so I bit him. It was only a small bite, not really wolflike at all. I didn’t even break the skin. Or, I do not think I did.

P.P.S. Here are my good wishes for you: You can, if you want, describe what it is like to be in the army. I will listen to you. I have always listened to you.


Dear Martin,

Today a big crow came and sat on the windowsill and looked right directly at me. He stared at me so long that I believe he was working to memorize my face. I would like to think that he then flew out of here, over the mountains and over the sea and right directly to you, holding the whole time this picture of me in his dark head and that when he landed beside you, you looked into his eyes and saw me; and that you could see how angry I am and how sick I am and how positively full and brimming-to-burst with words I am. This is what Mrs. Bullwhyte would call one of my "extended flights of fancy." She said that I am terribly prone to them and often told me that I should rein myself in or the world was bound to disappoint me. And guess what, Martin? She was right. The world has disappointed me. You let yourself get drafted; you have gone off to war. I am alone in the world. In summation: The mountains outside my window look purple sometimes, and sometimes they look blue. The mountains are always offered up in poetry and the Bible as something solid and true, but my thought on that is this: how could anyone trust in something so changeable, blue one minute and purple the next? My wishes for you: Last night, the moon was very low in the sky. It gave off a strange light that made the wallpaper birds seem to flap their wings. Take that and turn it into a wish for yourself, Martin.

Your sister,


P.S. When you walked away from me at the train station, I watched you for as long as I was able, as long as was humanly possible, and you did not look back, not once. That is when my heart broke. What’s wrong with me has nothing to do with my lungs. That nosewhistling, F-named doctor doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s my heart, my heart. My heart.



I have pneumonia and a high fever and it is hard for me to write these words. Everything shimmers; nothing holds still. I hope you appreciate my effort to communicate, Martin. It is our duty and our joy to communicate our hearts to each other. Words assist us in this task. That is what was written at the top of every one of Mrs. Bullwhyte’s vocabulary lists. Aunt Hazel sits with me and cries a lot and communicates with me that way. I have taken pity on her and allowed her to move her chair close to my bed. She is right beside me. In between crying, she talks and tells me astonishing things. For one: our mother was always flighty, even when she was a child (I guess this isn’t that astonishing). And that if she (Aunt Hazel) had known that we had been left all alone (she never even knew that Pa had died), she would not have allowed it. She would have come for us. I can’t imagine someone coming for us. I’d like to think about it more, but I can’t. I can’t think about anything right now. I’m so hot. The air coming in the window smells like mountains and the black wings of crows. If I could say something to Aunt Hazel, if I could manage to make myself speak, I would say that I’m not mad anymore, only afraid, and I don’t want to leave the world.


APRIL 8, 1944

Dear Martin,

Aunt Hazel and I were together in the third-floor bedroom for an eternity. This, of course, is hyperbole. But hyperbole is sometimes necessary to get at the truth (It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we have to lie to tell the truth better?). But that is neither here nor there. What I mean to say is that I was feverish for a long time and that Aunt Hazel stayed with me for the whole of it. That is a fact. It is also a fact that Aunt Hazel begged me to speak. Begged me, Martin. I have never before in my life had anyone beg for me to speak. It was deeply satisfying, particularly because for most of my life, I have been encouraged (vehemently) to keep quiet.

In any case, what happened was that I was in the grips of the fever, and I had a movie running in my head and what I kept seeing were not old, sad images, the kind you would expect your brain to pull up when you are sick and maybe dying; images such as Pa’s funeral, how black everything (the coffin and the trees and his hair, all slicked back) was and the way you sat on a chair in the dining room afterward and put your head in your hands like an old man; or an image of the house the way it looked (curtains blowing and the light forlorn) the morning I woke up and knew that Ma was well and truly gone; or the sight of you, walking away at the train station, never once turning back. I saw none of that. What I saw instead the whole time the fever raged was a moving list of Mrs. Bullwhyte’s vocabulary words. Every word looked as if it were etched in fire, necessary and demanding. I couldn’t help but think that Mrs. Bullwhyte would be pleased about this. At some point, I started to say the words out loud. Aunt Hazel listened to me with her mouth hanging open, as if I were speaking words she had been waiting all her life to hear. I have never been listened to that way. It’s an absolute shame that what I said didn’t make any sense. I just said the words, read them from the list, and the third-floor bedroom when I finally stopped, I felt freer, lighter, as if I might float away. Aunt Hazel, seeing this, took hold of my hand.

And then, as I was looking straight ahead, staring at nothing but the wall, an amazing thing happened. One of the birds broke free. It unpeeled itself from the wallpaper and flew around the room, bright as light, and then it went out the open window. Another bird lifted its wing off the wall and Aunt Hazel squeezed my hand so hard that it hurt, and after a minute, the bird sighed and sank back into the wall and stayed.

You will say that this was fever and Mrs. Bullwhyte would say that it was an extended flight of fancy, but I can only tell you that it is true: what was nothing but paper transformed itself into something living right before my eyes. I fell asleep then, and when I woke up it was dark in the room and Aunt Hazel was still there by my bed, sleeping, holding on to my hand. Can you imagine that? I’ve come to believe that her thick ankles are a clue to her character. Stalwart. That is the Bullwhyte vocabulary word for Aunt Hazel. The door to my room was unlocked. I took my hand out of Aunt Hazel’s and got out of bed and went to the door and opened it all the way and stepped down the hallway and down the stairs and into the kitchen and made myself a sandwich of cheese and bread. The bread was stale, but I have never in my life tasted such a good piece of cheese. I thought about Aunt Hazel, upstairs, asleep in her chair. She has very large hands, Martin, and she had held on to me so tight. And then I remembered the wallpaper bird, breaking free and flying out the window. My legs got shaky and I had to sit down. I sat there in the kitchen and held my sandwich; and I believed suddenly, fiercely, that I was going to live and so were you. I could feel the promise of this, of our surviving, deep in the enamel of my highly sensitive teeth. I finished the sandwich and went back upstairs and Aunt Hazel was still there, sleeping by my bed, and I said her name again and again until she finally woke up.

Your sister,


P.S. In summation: I am almost entirely well. Aunt Hazel is stalwart. It is April now, at last.

P.P.S. My wishes for you: that when you come home, you will go upstairs with me, to the third-floor bedroom, and let me show you the break in the pattern of the wallpaper, the place where a bird was and should be and is not. This is proof of something, I am sure, although I cannot say exactly what. When you turn away from the wallpaper, I will direct your gaze to the mountains, which are waiting, still, outside my window. As I write these words to you, they are changing again. They are turning themselves green.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 29, 2011

    Treat Yourself -- You Deserve It

    If you have the slightest bit of interest in what appeals to children at all, you must have read the classic "Polar Express" by the same author. This new book, while originally published as a picture book many years ago, is a fresh face for a very talented author and illustrator. Fortunately the illustrations are also included here, making it a complete package. What makes this so delightful is that the reader gets a taste of many different styles of multiple award-winning authors, including one by Van Allsburg himself. Not all of these authors are known for children's stories, but all stories here I would have no trouble letting my own children read. And here's a mystery of its own: If there are fourteen stories, why are there fifteen authors? I would consider this event fortunate.

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012


    This book is the absolute best book in the universe! READ IT!!!!!

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

    Asome book

    This is a fun and mysterious book

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2011

    Awesome book

    This book rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    4 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2012

    Good Book!

    One of my favorite books. Third to be exact.

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2014


    We are going to be writing our own stories to go with the illustrations in class. Im doing just desert. I hope to read this book afterwards!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012


    Omg my dad bought this hardback book for me at Christmas time!!!!!!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012


    Just Desert is the best of the bunch.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2012


    I did this eith a group in my class and we all loved it. I am just going to say that u hould by the real thing because th pictures r amazing. The only thing we idnt like was that some of the pictures didnt match the stories. And one of our favorite s
    Pictures had the worst story.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2013


    This is a really good book! It is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. I love all the pictures but Mr. Linden's library is my favorite!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012



    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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