children's books, Chris Van Allsburg, creativity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, illustration, imagination, picture book illustrators, story starters

Images for Inspiration

After reading my post about creativity and my mention of The Imaginaries-Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin, :Donna@ recommended the picture book THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK by Chris Van Allsburg, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1984 and a book of short stories THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK, again published by Houghton Mifflin, this time in 2011.

The picture book came about from 14 images each with titles and captions, which Mr. Harris Burdick had given to Mr. Peter Wenders to consider for publication.

A Strange Day In July- He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

Mr. Wenders liked the artwork and was interested in reading Mr. Burdick’s stories. Mr. Burdick was to return with the stories the following day, but he never returned.

Years later, Chris Van Allsburg told Mr. Wenders that it was difficult to look at the images without making up a story at which point Mr. Wenders brought out a cardboard box containing dozens of stories inspired by the images, which had been written by Mr. Wenders children and their friends.

The book of short stories was written by 14 well known writers: Sherman Alexie, Linda Sue Park, Stephen King and Gregory Maguire to name a few, and the tales tell the stories those authors thought of after viewing the pictures.

The House on Maple Street-It was a perfect lift-off.

I hadn’t looked at the book of short stories until after I tried my hand at a timed story starter writing exercise (ten minutes) afterwards I read what Jules Feiffer wrote after looking at the same image. It was a fun exercise to try and equally enjoyable to read Mr. Feiffer’s full story. Below is what I wrote within my ten minute practice exercise after looking at this image and reading its title and caption.

Uninvited Guests-His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.

Malcolm was sure he heard laughter. But how could he have? No one was home and they wouldn’t be for hours. It was just he and Mrs. Murphy, his grandmother’s cat who was sound asleep on the back of the couch. There it was again. Malcolm moved slowly, quietly to see if he could pinpoint where the giggles were coming from. As he passed the basement door he heard a soft shushing. He opened the door a crack and peeked. He didn’t like the basement. It was full of forgotten things. Things that had once been useful, but now were left to gather dust. He flicked on the light, swallowed hard and took a step down. Right foot, left, right foot, left, he was more than halfway down when he noticed a small wooden door painted yellow. It came barely above his ankle. Why was there door there-and so small? Had it always been there?

The timer rang, and that’s where I stopped. It was a fun exercise, and I’d recommend trying it. I’d suggest getting both the picture book and the short stories and having a go at a timed practice. See what you come up with and read what short stories were created from the images. If you try it, please share what you created. I’d love to read and post your tales.

Thank you :Donna for the great recommendations!

3 thoughts on “Images for Inspiration”

  1. Jan, I LOVE that you actually checked out these books! And REALLY love what you wrote! VERY compelling ❤ Just so you know, it's 100% fictitious. There was no actual Mr. Wenders or Mr. Burdick 😀 (I thought they might be read, too, before I became familiar with the rest of Van Allsburg's work.) It's ALL from the brilliant imagination of Chris Van Allsburg, along with his aMAZing artwork. I actually did write a "first page" years ago when Kathy Temean was doing picture prompts and she used one from the original book. Would you like me to post it here in comments? Or send it to you? P.S. I'm still working on a bonus edition of my Pippin Pals which is why I haven't sent it yet, and have had NO time to do ANYthing since Mom broke her leg Sept. 22nd :-/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That it was Chris Van Allsburg makes sense, but I wasn’t sure . . . Well done Mr. Van Allsburg! Yes, send me your post I’d love to share it along with other story starter ideas. I read the take that Sherman Alexie had on the skipped rocks and the one that returned. I was really surprised at the plot and the surprise ending he wrote for that image.

      I’m so sorry to hear you Mom broke her leg. How is her recuperation going.

      Wow, a bonus edition! Looking forward to reading Pippin Pals.


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