1. It works at any level. Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick was first published in 1984. My first exposure to it was my sixth grade teacher’s assignment. “Here is a book with pictures, titles, and the first line of a story. You now have to write the story.” I loved this idea so much, I remember writing more than one story for multiple pictures. The book stayed with me, and when I was teaching a summer writing course early in my career, I went and found the book and gave my students the same assignment.
2. You can use it for short stories as well as for writing assignments. Fast forward to 2011, when Lemony Snicket introduces this new book–with tales by 14 prominent authors who’d done just what I (and thousands of students) had done–they wrote stories based on the pictures and sentences. This collection includes stories from Sherman Alexie, Job Scieszka, Cory Doctorow, Stephen King, Lois Lowry and eight others. The topics range from spelling caterpillars, ghostly captains, and bewitched books. This delightful collection of short stories would work with all age groups–from young readers to adults, and the stories captivate and surprise the reader.
3. There are some quotable moments: “Books have always been among my most trusted of friends. The best of them allow the mind to wanter wherever the author’s musings lead.” “Books have the ability to take the mind to strange places and in strange ways.”
4.You could examine the images as text. I am currently imagining using this with my students and assigning them to write an analysis of one of the images without reading the story–talking about tone and mood–and then discussing how visual images can be analyzed.
5. So many assignment options. I’m also considering having students take a picture and then offer the class collection of pictures to students, who will then write stories based on someone else’s students. Lots of angles for collaboration and community building. Plus, these stories and pictures are striking!