Chris Van Allsburg Essay, Research Paper
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 writing.
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 creative writing to my class. Each and every story that I would receive from my children would be unique based on what they feel is the underlying story to the picture. Incidentally, the second picture in the book title “Under the Rug” was the picture that Chris Van Allsburg astonished Walter Lorraine with.
He must be a frequent dreamer, day and night, to make up such stories. I read both Just a Dream and Ben’s Dream. One dealt with a little boy who had no respect for the environment. He never gave it much attention. Upon going on a journey into the future one night on his bed, he discovers where the world would be heading to if everyone had the attitude towards the environment like he did. He discovered, as the reader does through the remarkable illustrations, that we all must do our part to preserve the environment. The last picture of the book is an example of Chris Van Allsburg’s style. After realizing how he should change his attitude, Walter plants a tree for his birthday. That night in his dream, he travels into a better future to a neighborhood where a man is mowing his lawn between two large trees. This perhaps represents the tree that he planted for his birthday and the one that his friend had planted the day before. The other book that dealt with dreams was Ben’s Dream. This story took a boy on a journey through his geography textbook. He passed by all of the famous monuments that he was studying about. In the end you find out that his classmate was having the same dream and saw him there. The reader is left to wonder if they both really took the fabulous journey, or of it was just a coincidence that they had the same dream.
Two other books that I read, The Polar Express and Two Bad Ants, dealt with faith in very different ways. In the book The Polar Express, a boy gets to meet Santa Claus and is given the first gift of Christmas. He maintains his faith throughout his lifetime going along with the popular saying that “seeing is believing.” All the while, his siblings and then, in the future, his own children lose their faith in Santa Claus. The book Two Bad Ants tells a story of two ants that decide that life in the anthill is not the life that they want. They try living in a kitchen, which seems to be an ant paradise, only to find them in a load of trouble everywhere they went. In the end, the two ants learned that they needed to keep their faith in the colony that they belonged to because they knew what was best for all of them.
I enjoyed reading all of his books. His writing style, accompanied with the talented illustrations, makes for a great book. These are the types of books that a child would want to read over and over again. They are also appealing to adults, which would allow for a parent to spend some quality time reading with their children. I believe that Chris Van Allsburg was born with his incredible imagination. Through his drawings and through the courses he took in college he found his true passion. If weren’t for that chance meeting with his wife’s friend he might have never had the chance or the desire to write storybooks for children.
Chris Van Allsburg Storybooks
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, 1979
Just a Dream, 1990
Ben’s Dream, 1982
The Polar Express, 1985
Two Bad Ants, 1988
The Wreck of the Zephyr, 1983
The Mysteries of Harris Bur*censored*, 1984
The Widow’s Broom, 1992