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Chris Van Allsburg, Lois Lowry Discuss New Book

Fourteen famed children's writers contributed to the new compilation

By Claire M. McLaughlin, Contributing Writer

Twenty-seven years after publishing “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick,” Chris Van Allsburg still maintains that he isn’t sure what happened to the enigmatic children’s author.

According to Van Allsburg, Burdick left behind a collection of 14 intriguing illustrations, each accompanied by a story title and a single line of text, when he mysteriously disappeared in the early 1950s. When Van Allsburg found the images in 1984, he published them and sparked the imaginations of readers who wondered what happened to Burdick and tried to retell his lost stories.

But Burdick is, of course, a fictional creation of Van Allsburg.

On Friday, Van Allsburg, whose notable works include “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express,” visited the Brattle Street Theatre alongside Lois Lowry to discuss his new book, “The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.” In it, fourteen distinguished authors, including Steven King, Louis Sachar, and share their versions of the Harris Burdick tales. Van Allsburg was joined by editors Margaret Raymo and Roger Sutton in a conversation hosted by the Harvard Book Store.

“The Chronicles of Harris Burdick” features short stories based on 14 black and white illustrations originally published in “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.” In these stories, distinguished authors including Lowry, Stephen King, Louis Sachar, and Van Allsburg himself, revisit the old images and provide their own interpretations of the Burdick mystery.

“We had a dream list of authors,” said Raymo, who served as the book’s editor. “People immediately responded. We got very, very few ‘no’s.’”

One of the first people Raymo contacted was Lowry, author of “The Giver” and “Number the Stars,” who agreed to write the story for “The Seven Chairs.”

“I had always thought that particular picture was the most fascinating,” Lowry said of the image, which depicts a nun sitting on a floating chair. “I began [to write] with an element of exhilaration,” she said.

The process, however, came with some challenges. “I forgot about the caption,” said Lowry, who was two-thirds into writing when she remembered that she needed to include the sentence “The fifth one ended up in France” somewhere in her story. “I had to figure out how to get a nun in Lowell, Massachusetts, to France very quickly.”

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