by Alexis Birner
Recently, Paul and I were fortunate enough to hear Chris van Allsburg speak. He has always been one of my favourite authors, both during my childhood and also more recently from the perspective of an educator.
Before discussing his works as an author, Chris gave the audience a bit of background to his career. What I found especially surprising is that Chris van Allsburg never intended on being an author or an illustrator! It was his wife, a former primary school teacher, who encouraged him to use his talent for drawings to make children’s books. His first book ended up winning a Caldecott medal, a very high achievement for any author, let alone one who had never written or illustrated before.
While I love his books for a variety of reasons, I especially love his books because they cater to a wide audience. His life-like drawings and often dark storylines normally have a twist at the end, and challenge the thinker to find their own interpretation of the story. I would consider his picture books to be sophisticated, and have found them to be especially effective in developing higher-level thinking skills when using them with teenaged students.
I have a portfolio edition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. I’ve used these large poster-size pictures for ESL students, teenagers, and even young students. The pictures have a strange feature in them, and are accompanied only by a title and a caption. The rest is left to the imagination of the person looking at the picture.