Chris Van Allsburg

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Chris Van Allsburg

Chris Van Allsburg

Chris Van Allsburg has been named one of the most intriguing authors and illustrators of
children’s books. He has a unique style that captivates children and adults alike.
Often, a person’s background and experiences influence their work. Imagination has many
roots into the childhood of an individual.

Chris Van Allsburg grew up in a quiet suburban setting in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During
the 1950’s, when he was a child, the town was a place that seemed like a haven for any
young boy. There were open fields that provided places for the children to enjoy a
baseball game in the spring. The houses were not separated by fences, but rather blended
together by the yards. The setting in which he grew up provided activities and locations
that fostered imagination. He used to go down to the edge of a river and tried to catch
tadpoles. Walking around in the wilderness that surrounded his town could be very
relaxing and allow for the mind to conjure up many ideas. The child’s mind has a great
ability to make up stories, but when you are constantly “practicing” at make-believe, you
tend to become better and better at it. You also come to develop your own unique style.

As a young boy Chris Van Allsburg enjoyed drawing. He loved to sit down and put his
imaginative ideas to paper for his own viewing pleasure. In school and with his family he
was not encouraged to spend so much time drawing and painting. Since he was a boy, he was
encouraged to participate in sports more often. Chris Van Allsburg abandoned his passion
for drawing and went along with the pressures of his family and friends. He would not
discover his passion for a few more years.

When Chris Van Allsburg entered college he took a freshman course in drawing. There at
the University of Michigan he came to rediscover his love of art. He went on to major in
fine arts and then received a degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design.
His style was that of works that had a narrative feeling to them. The storyteller in him
started to become evident when they became available for display in New York City.

His big break as a children’s book writer came as a result of his wife. She was a
producer of a television show and invited one of the show’s guests home for dinner on
night. After dinner she and Chris Van Allsburg showed him some of his illustrations as
part of a casual after-dinner conversation. He was immediately impressed and gave the
number of Walter Lorraine, an editor with Houghton Mifflin Company, to him and asked him
to call him. When he finally contacted Mr. Lorraine, the man was so impressed with his
drawings that he convinced Chris Van Allsburg that he should venture into children’s book

His first book was The Garden of Abdul Gasazi in 1979. He showed the world that he was a
talented storybook writer. The public responded by buying more than a million copies.
This book also received a Caldecott Medal Award. He would follow up with wonderful books
such as The Mysteries of Harris Bur*censored*.

Many people wonder how he gets the ideas for such intriguing tales. Chris Van Allsburg
explains this in many of his interviews. He always starts out with a picture. Then he
asks himself questions about the characters and the events occurring around the
characters. “What are they doing?” “How did they get there?” “What is going to happen if
they do this?” Using these and other various questions, along with an imagination that is
unfathomable, he produces a story with endless possibilities. In the end, he figures out
what the best ending will be. The book is then placed in the hands of millions of little
readers and thoroughly enjoyed.

In reading his books I could definitely see why he is so successful. I was anxious to
turn each page. When I finished a book, I was always left with a question or a deep
thought concerning the outcome. One of my favorites was the book entitled The Mysteries
of Harris Bur*censored*. This book was filled with mysterious pictures and one title and
caption to go along with each. Each one sparked questions and storyline ideas the second
you laid your eyes on them. As a teacher, I feel that I could use this book to introduce
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