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For young adults: ‘The Chronicles of Harris Burdick’ go bump in the night

By Mary Quattlebaum,

THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIS BURDICK

14 Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $24.99.
Ages 10-14

Stories of zombies and vampires may be the obvious choice for a Halloween read, but the 14 surreal tales in this book offer a far more subtle and nape-tingling experience. Each of the authors — Kate DiCamillo, Cory Doctorow and even horror master Stephen King — has penned a story to accompany a given black-and-white illustration by Caldecott medalist Chris Van Allsburg. These detailed images and their cryptic captions were first published by Van Allsburg in “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick” (1984), with an introduction that describes them as the work of the strangely vanished (and fictional) title character. Lemony Snicket (nom de plume of the creator of “A Series of Unfortunate Events”) extends that metafictional conceit in his clever introduction to this volume by musing on the “true” identity — Burdick, perhaps? — of these 14 authors. It’s all brain candy for bright middle-schoolers. The tales themselves are a mixed bag of tricks, treats and tones. Jon Scieszka turns in a fast-paced, macabre meditation on a menacing bump in a rug, while Sherman Alexie relays a harrowing account of an empty dress and the power of lies. Gregory Maguire works witty fairy-tale magic in a contemporary story set in Venice. All these tales are a pleasure to ponder. But Louis Sachar’s wistful connection between a ghostly sea captain and a fatherless boy along with Lois Lowry’s riff on a floating chair most gracefully mirror the spirit of Van Allsburg’s haunting pictures.

— Mary Quattlebaum

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