The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Good picture books ought not to have an upper age limit, since they usually have something to offer to everyone — and these two extraordinary picture books prove my point. I’ve always been fascinated by the genesis of stories, and if you read enough author interviews, you’ll probably reach the conclusion that stories can grow from the darnedest things, and there’s no telling where each spark may lead.

For aspiring writers, though, it’s useful to have something concrete to kickstart the imagination, like the 14 strikingly haunting black-and-white images in Chris Van Allsburg’s classic 1984 picture book, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which are each accompanied by only a title and a single enigmatic sentence: a clear invitation to the reader to take up the challenge of continuing the stories, as many new and accomplished writers (see: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick) have done.

In the same vein, The Whisper is almost like a Harris Burdick for younger budding storytellers, and it cleverly uses the plot device of a little girl reading a very special wordless book to show kids how to go about writing stories, since it involves using your imagination to come up with the words to explain what is shown in the illustrations.


And if you have seen Pamela Zagarenski’s Caldecott Honor book, Sleep Like a Tiger, it will not surprise you one bit that the illustrations here are staggeringly beautiful and full of whimsical little details — perfect for capturing the imagination of the reader, who will be inspired by the art and the clever little story starters that are conjured up by the little girl in the tale.


I also love the incorporation of — and twist to — the Aesop’s fable The Fox and the Grapes, which perfectly illustrates that no story is ever set in stone, and that there is always room for creativity.

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