Thursday, September 2, 2010

Children's Author Highlight 2: Chris Van Allsburg

Chris Van Allsburg is a great children's book author and, in my opinion, an even better illustrator. Known especially for his pencil drawings, his depictions are surreal and even have dark tendencies. 

Most of his better-known works have become movies, with the animated  The Polar Express (2004) being the most notable.  Others are surprised to find that Jumanji (1995) with Robin Williams was also a Chris Van Allsburg creation. More recently, the book Zathura, which happens to be an off-shoot of the Jumanji story, was also turned into a movie in 2005. 

Although the movies are suitable for some children though, I wouldn't recommend them for all. Some of his stories might be scary to a lot of children. Although highly imaginative, they aren't light-hearted or feel-good books, but are rather more serious and require a little more thought than other children's books, so the concepts or themes may really be better suited for older children. And after reading several of his stories, I'm wondering also if he was the victim of torture by an older sibling... as that seems to be a common element throughout many of his books.

Stories I would recommend for all: 

The Polar Express (1985) Probably needs no introduction. A journey to the North Pole, and a little bit of faith.

Probuditi! (2006) Good for kids, and teaches you not to be mean to younger siblings. Beautiful sepia toned pencil drawings.

Just a Dream (1990) One that I loved as as kid, shows a kid what the world would look like if people stopped taking care of it. 

Ben's Dream (1982) After Ben falls asleep without studying for his geography test, he has dreams about the monuments he was supposed to learn about.  Not great if your child has a short attention span, because there are no words.

The Wreck of the Zephyr (1983) One of my brother's favorites. About a boy who learns how to fly his boat among the clouds, but learns humility as well.

The Z Was Zapped (1987) An alphabet book that describes the various maladies of letters-- uses larger language that younger kids may not quite understand.

Bad Day at River Bend (1995) A very creative way to incorporate a child's play into a story. 

Books I would recommend with some reservations or for older kids: 

Jumanji (1981) May be scary for very young children, but otherwise seems fine.

Zathura (2002) Again, may be scary for young children.

The Widow's Broom (1992)  A book about a magic broom that is threatening and on the scary side.

The Stranger (1986)  After a strange man is hit by a truck, he is invited into a family's home. The stranger can't remember who he is, but seems to have special abilities.  Although the story line is sweet enough, it would be bad to encourage young children to be so trusting toward strangers living in their house.

The Wretched Stone (1991)  Definitely the darkest of his books, it almost has an Edgar Allen Poe quality to it. There is an evil stone making strouble aboard the ship.

Two Bad Ants (1988)
The Sweetest Fig (1993)
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984)

For more information, see Chris Van Allsburg's website:

Information about the movies can be found at 

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