May 24, 2013

SPOILER ALERT: Magical Hidden Secret Revealed from the works of Chris Van Allsburg

When discussing the Magic of Reading, I am sure many
different books and authors come to mind for each of us. For me, Chris Van Allsburg is the top of the list. If you are visiting from my post over at The Nerdy Book Club, welcome to Creating Lifelong Learners. 

In my post over at Nerdy Book Club, I wrote about the MAGIC OF READING and how I feel it connects to the MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS. Each year before Christmas break, I teach a very deep critical reading unit focusing on Chris Van Allsburg’s books. Although he is thought of as a children’s picture book author, if you look critically at his books, you will notice that there is much more there than meets the eye. His books are fabulous for teaching readers to look beyond the text to find hidden meanings and themes any time of year.

Below are just a few examples of the MAGIC in Mr. Allsburg’s pieces. 
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick 
Van Allsburg begins this book with an opening letter about a character by the name of Harris Burdick. There is very little text in the book other than the letter. The book itself is made up of 14 illustrations and one caption for each. Mr. Van Allsburg claims that the illustrations found in the book are simply leftover from other unpublished stories that had by written by the man named Harris Burdick. He leads to reader to believe that he didn’t write this book at all, he simply compiled the pictures in hopes that his character would come forward to be recognized.  However, Mr. Burdick has not been seen or heard from since he delivered the original snippets of the stories, leaving a bit of mystery and intrigue.  If you read his books closely, you will notice small trademarks through out the book that prove that he did in fact write this book.  It gives students a wonderful chance to build the missing stories and explore the possibilities of the clues within each picture and caption. This book inspired the creation of The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, written for adults, which was written by 14 phenomenal authors such as Lemony Snicket, Kate DiCamillo, and Stephen King. Each author took one of the illustrations and created a story to go with it.  

The Wretched Stone

This is a story about a crew of very intelligent and talented men aboard a ship. They find a stone and it begins to draw their attention to such an extreme that they begin ignoring all other aspects of their lives and duties aboard the ship! Never is anything other than the stone specifically mentioned in the book.  However, if you read very deeply…you may notice that this stone is a symbol for other types of “stones” that draws many people’s attention away from other duties. “It is a rock, approximately two feet across. It is rough textured, gray in color, but a portion of it is flat and smooth as glass. From this surface comes a glowing light…” Do you notice any hidden themes or stories in this quote? Do you notice any symbolism? Do you see any connections to television or technology?  Maybe not, but is sure does offer some deep literary conversations to have with your students.  

Ben’s Dream 

A wonderfully told tale of a little boy who falls asleep studying for a geography test. That afternoon he had wanted to play baseball with his friend but the rain kept him home and inside his house. As the story is told, it begins to rain and his house begins to float past several famous landmarks around the world. We are led to believe that our little friend is dreaming of his adventure, however, at the end of the story, we realize that his friend had the same “dream,” and both kids saw each other as they were floating around the world. This surprise ending leads you to flip back through the story and in fact, you will find the children passing each other and waving while they were “dreaming.” Not only is this a great book to demonstrate the importance of deep reading and re-reading of a story, it is great for geography, and writing, and so many wonderful things. After reading the book, my students researched each landmark and used Google Earth to visit each place! A fabulous book to introduce and build many lessons for kids of all ages. 

I could go on and on, and if you ask my friends, they will certainly tell you that I do.  I have a true fascination with his work and am in awe of his imagination and creativity. I hope that you have found at least one book by Chris Van Allsburg that you can incorporate into your classroom, no matter what age group you teach! 

If you would like to win a 10th Anniversary edition of The Polar Express, complete with the magical letter written by the author which inspired my post over at the Nerdy Book Club, please join in the fun and register below! You'll need to be connected with at least one of the options listed so that  I contact you for delivery information.  :)

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Thanks so much for stopping by and don’t forget to visit The Nerdy Book Club!


  1. First I have heard of Ben's Dream. I have recently finished a book on Mount Rushmore and are in the process of another visiting the Statue of Liberty. For these and other children's book suggestions visit

  2. We love Chris Van Allsburg's books. Sweetest Fig and Witch's Broom were so well written. Like you mention in your article, I do think that all his books have some messages that if you read carefully and "critically" one will find it there and put a smile on your face!
    Thanks for sharing! would love a copy of the Polar Express!

  3. We also love Chris Van Allsburg in my 4th grade class. It took two readings of The Stranger for my students to finally get the idea that it wasn't a "normal" stranger visiting. lol
    Awesome post on TNBC!!
    Pinkadots Elementary

  4. We have just started a unit on Chris Van Allsburg. I began with having the children try a fig. What a range of opinions. Then I had them explore the first picture of "The Sweetest Fig" - what did they observe in the drawing and what do they think will happen and why. There is so much detail in all his drawings and so much deep thinking. The children are enjoying all the books so far.

  5. Awesome post. I love Chris Van Allsburg and just bought The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to accompany the posters. We use the posters as writing prompts and then compare our stories to the ones written by famous authors. The kids love to find out which author wrote about the same picture as them!

    easy peasy education

  6. I really enjoyed reading this post! I am so glad to find out about the Nerdy Book Club blog--what a wonderful place. Thanks for the opportunity to win and for sharing about this fabulous author (one of by favorites)...

    All the best--
    Sarah @ Hoots N Hollers

  7. This post was perfect timing. I've wanted to use Van Allsburn books for a while to teach inferring to my students. However, I teach at a private school, and we're very careful about teaching with books that involve magicky things...I wanted to read these books first (I've only read Harris Burdick and Polar Express) before ordering so I could see if they were appropriate for my classroom, but they didn't have them at any bookstore I went to :( I'll find them this summer and read them before next year. I do use The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for the students to write stories about, and they have really enjoyed that. Thanks for the great post.

    Teaching With Class

  8. I love him, too, and can't wait to use these great ideas!



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