If I were to magically transfer my most vividly remembered dream onto paper, I bet it'd come out like a Chris Van Allsburg story. Whenever I read one of his books, I'm reminded of one of those dreams that you only sort-of remember when you wake up — some details are missing or kind of vague, but others are incredibly vivid and lifelike. Maybe the scenes don't really make sense when you put them together, but when you think about them, they bring out strong, powerful feelings of, well, something.
To this day, just like with dreams I had years and years ago, I can still remember exactly what some of Chris Van Allsburg's drawings look like, even though I haven't actually seen them in a long time. You could call most of his works picture books, but make no mistake — these are very sophisticated, complex and occasionally dark pieces of literature. He's definitely one of those rare "children's authors" whose work can appeal to kids, teens and adults — and he just happens to tell his stories with words and pictures.
I'm rambling a bit, so let's get down to facts. C.V.A .was born in Michigan in 1949. He went to art school at the University of Michigan, where he actually started by studying sculpture, and then got an MFA (Master's Degree in Fine Arts) at the very hip Rhode Island School of Design. He wrote his first successful picture book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, when he was 30, and he never looked back. It won him a Caldecott Honor, and his next book, Jumanji, landed him the Caldecott Medal itself. Since then, he's written over a dozen books, several of which have been adapted into movies. He's probably best known for The Polar Express, but some of my favorites are a little more obscure. The Widow's Broom, The Wreck of the Zephyr, The Wretched Stone, and Two Bad Ants are all a little "out there," frankly, but that's why they're so awesome. Unlike a lot of children's authors, C.V.A. isn't afraid to get a little weird on his readers.
Chris Van Allsburg's homepage is fun to explore and includes a trivia scavenger hunt. (Did you know that Fritz, an English Bull-Terrier based on his brother-in-law's dog, appears in every single one of his works?) You'll also find some unpublished drawings, synopses of all his books, pictures of his sculptures from college, and more. Definitely worth checking out. And we've got a great slideshow with pictures from several of the books that I mentioned — slide #12 has always been one of my favorite pictures. (I love the way those grains of sugar look.)
But if you really want to get the C.V.A. experience, pick up one of his books, wait until it gets dark and everyone else has gone to bed, and start reading.
What are your favorite Chris Van Allsburg books? Let me know in the comments!
— Jack, STACKS Staffer