Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

When I started teaching in 4th grade 24 years (ack!) ago, I was introduced to this great book by Chris Van Allsburg---The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.

Every year I would bring the book out and share the mysterious circumstances of its creation.  Then I would have the kids imagine what the "undiscovered stories"were--and each would choose one picture and craft a story of his/her very own.  I loved reading those stories and the kids loved hearing each others.  I scooped up the "portfolio" when it was released so that the kids could see all the pictures at once.  However, the first year I moved to 6th grade, I had many of the same kids and, when I pulled Harris Burdick out, I heard "We did that in 4th grade."  But we trudged on, and they wrote their stories--but they were uninspired and unmemorable.  And I was deflated.  And sad.  Maybe they were just too old for the magic of Harris Burdick.  And so the book went onto my bookshelf and sat there.  For years.

This summer, as I was deep-cleaning my room, I came across the book and as I looked it over,  I was transported back to that time of my early teaching--when every thing was new and fresh, and I was bubbling over with enthusiasm for learning.  I remembered how I felt when they rejected the book--but with a different perspective.  They wanted to be grown-up and when they did the same activity, with the same teacher, that they had done 2 years earlier, they rebelled.  I didn't see it then.  But time often brings clarity, and I could see what went wrong that year.

So, a month ago, I lowered my voice as if I was getting ready to spill a secret, and told this new crop of 6th graders that I had something incredible to share with them.  A book that has been around for years--a mystery that has yet to be solved.  And I read the story, and shared the pictures.  And as I heard them excitedly chattering about the pictures and saw them getting up out of their seats to "get a better look," I realized that the magic was still there.  For the next 40 minutes, you could have heard a pin drop in the room--and there were groans because we had to stop writing (it was lunchtime.)  Upon returning to the assignment the next day, I heard one girl tell her friend, "I really don't mind doing this" and I had to stop myself from running a victory lap around their desks.

Their stories have been turned in.  And many of them are inspired.
If you have never had the pleasure of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, I encourage you to check it out.

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