Apr. 24th, 2017

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The Caldecott winner of the week is Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji! Which is not my favorite Van Allsburg book, but it's not like there are bad Chris Van Allsburg books, so. I love his super detailed pencil illustrations: they're not photorealistic, but they nonetheless remind me of well-done black and white photographs in their drama and contrast.

The book Jumanji is much simpler than the movie: two children, Peter and Judy, find the game Jumanji sitting beneath a tree in the park. They take it home and begin to play - only for a lion to appear when Peter takes his first roll! But now that the die is cast, the only thing to do is to play the game all the way through to the end, through monsoons, volcanoes, hungry monkeys, etc.

Fortunately, when the game ends all the animals and weather events do too, as well as the damage they've caused. Thank goodness. And then - having played this terrifying game - what do the children do? Throw it in the trash? Burn it? Dig a deep hole in the backyard and bury it where it can never hurt anyone ever again?

But of course not! They take it back to the park where they found it, and the book ends with them watching another pair of children running off with it. The cycle must continue.

***

We had a number of Chris Van Allsburg books when I was growing up - The Wreck of the Zephyr (about a flying boat), Just a Dream (an environmentalist fable), and The Polar Express (which was my least favorite; naturally it's the most popular) - but my very favorite was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which is a series of unrelated illustrations, each accompanied by a single-line caption. The conceit is that these are the drawings of one Harris Burdick, who left them in Van Allsburg's hands with the promise to return with the stories accompanying them - only he never did, and now Van Allsburg is publishing them in the hopes that you, dear reader, might be inspired to tell their stories.

I did indeed find them very inspiring, although the story I eventually wrote does not, alas, quite fit the illustration that inspired it - a nun in a flying chair - I took the flying chair bit and ran with it. Six chairs took to the skies as a result of a science experiment gone wrong in Biology 101, and one landed in a swamp, where the devil took possession, and our intrepid heroine Monika had to do battle for it. (She won it with Thin Mints in the end.)

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