Sunday, September 2, 2018

Review - The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
edited by Chris Van Allsburg
Date: 2011
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Reading level: MG
Book type: short stories
Pages: 208
Format: e-book
Source: library

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book turned out to be a mixed bag for me. I was vaguely aware of the whole Harris Burdick thing (it's explained in both introductions--one of which is at the end of the book). The first introduction by Lemony Snicket almost made me DNF; I get that he's got a certain shtick, but I find it grating and condescending. Anyway, once I got to the actual stories, I had an easier time of it.

Here are my thoughts on the individual stories:

"Archie Smith, Boy Wonder" by Tabitha King - This was barely a story, so it probably wasn't the best one to start with (although, maybe the stories are in the order that the illustrations in the original book were in). After a quick scene to set things up, the rest of the story is basically a short, overheard conversation. I guess it helps explain the illustration, but it was pretty underwhelming.

"Under the Rug" by Jon Scieszka - I quite liked this one. It's funny, and a bit scary, and shows us why we should always listen to the wisdom of our elders...

"A Strange Day in July" by Sherman Alexie - So this author took an innocent little illustration with just a hint of weirdness and turned it into something that could be the basis of a horror movie. The two little psychopaths in this story might make you vow never to have children. (Timmy takes delight in screaming at his teacher until she cries. Nice kid.) Don't worry, though; these two little monsters get what they deserve.

"Missing in Venice" by Gregory Maguire - This story had sort of a fairytale feel to it, with a quasi-wicked stepmother and a witch and gingerbread, but... It's hard for me to like a story when there are glaring technical problems. You can't write a story from one person's point of view, and then suddenly slip into another character's mind for a few sentences, hoping the reader won't notice; it just doesn't work.

"Another Place, Another Time" by Cory Doctorow - This was an interesting little story with children asking questions that make you think (in this case, the question being, "Can you move sideways in time?"). Although I wasn't crazy about the characters, the setting and plot were interesting enough that I liked the story.

"Uninvited Guests" by Jules Feiffer - A stupid, self-indulgent pile of crap. The main character was completely unlikable and unsympathetic. Seriously, are we supposed to care that death is coming for a narcissist who cares more about a stuffed snake and his fictional characters than his own family? No wonder his wife left him. (I bet she wished that toy snake were real so it would've strangled him.)

"The Harp" by Linda Sue Park - This was a really cute story that might've gotten a better rating from me if not for that ending. What was that? It almost seemed like the author got tired of writing and just gave up. Until that point, though, it was a cute fairytale-like story about some children who had to break a curse.

"Mr. Linden's Library" by Walter Dean Myers - This had an interesting setup that made me think we might be going down a path similar to The Neverending Story. But... you know what? I can't even remember how this one ended, even though I only finished it a few hours ago. If it wasn't that memorable, it couldn't have been that good.

"The Seven Chairs" by Lois Lowry - This was okay. I didn't love it or hate it, really. It offered a good explanation for a very strange picture, though!

"The Third-Floor Bedroom" by Kate DiCamillo - Okay, so maybe I just liked this one because of the astute observation about nose-whistlers. Or maybe not. DiCamillo has this way of making characters seem so real and distinct. This was probably my favourite story in the whole book, not necessarily because of the subject matter, but just because of how well it was written.

"Just Desert" by M. T. Anderson - This story would have scared me half to death when I was a kid. It's heavy for the target age, and if you really understand the concept, it's pretty terrifying. (So is the drawing that goes along with it, though, so I guess it works in that respect.)

"Captain Tory" by Louis Sachar - While rather bland, this was decent. I'm not sure I would've gone in the same direction with this one, though; the illustration makes the captain look a lot more threatening.

"Oscar and Alphonse: The Farkas Conjecture" by Chris Van Allsburg - The writing in this one was kind of a miss for me, technically speaking. I also felt it was kind of... manipulative. It's one of those stories that has an obvious end point, and that ending just seems like it's trying way too hard. I didn't like this one much.

You'll notice that that's only thirteen stories. For some reason (copyright issues, I'm guessing), the story by Stephen King is not included in the e-book edition. That's disappointing; I would've liked to read that one!

So this was just an okay collection of stories. The illustrations are interesting to look at, though.

Overall: 2.77 out of 5

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