The Harris Burdick Project

Lesson Overview- Collaborative Creative Writing

        As English teachers, sometime the most difficult aspects of our curriculum can simply be the balancing act of trying to meet all the demands of the curriculum while making sure students get a well‐rounded education.  With literature, writing, and grammar to be taught and preparation for state assessments, sometimes it seems like there is little time to explore creative writing.  However, creative writing has been proven to be a wonderful way to reinforce writing and grammar skills while actually helping students with their critical and abstract thinking- skills necessary for state assessments. 
The lesson plan detailed on this site provides students the opportunity to explore the world of Harris Burdick while creating original, authentic stories and building strong relationships between communities.  Schools  will work in conjunction with one another and write a cohesive story over a two week time span while using modern technology to reach the aim of this telecollaborative project.

The Story of Harris Burdick

        The year was 1953.  The evening was dark and heavy, as if a winter coat had been thrown upon the Chicago landscape.  Rain fell down in torrents so much so that cars drove slowly and carefully, and no one ventured outside unless it was of utmost importance.  On the corner of 5th and Vine Street, a small man in a drenched overcoat frantically wiped his round glasses, trying to read the scribbled note in his hands.  Searching frantically from building to building, at last the small man discovered the address he was looking for and stepped inside the brightly lit foyer.
          Trudging up the three flights of steps the man with the spectacles stopped in front of the office door for 303.  On the glass window was etched in large manuscript writing, “Wenders Publishing Company- Mr. Peter Wenders and Associates.”  ‘This is my chance’ thought the man with the prominent nose and round glasses.  ‘This is my chance to finally share my stories with the world.”  Once inside the office, the man introduced himself to the receptionist as Harris Burdick and explained that he had an appointment.  The receptionist led Mr. Burdick down a long hallway to the large oaken door that read, “Peter Wenders.”  Inside an older man with a white beard smiled and introduced himself as Peter Wenders, children’s book publisher.  Eager to get to finally show his work, Harris Burdick produced from beneath his raincoat a large brown portfolio.  From within it, Harris Burdick produced fifteen beautifully illustrated pictures.  Each picture bore a hand‐drawn charcoal image, a title, and the first line of a story.  As Mr. Wenders reviewed the pictures his smile grew with every new image.  In a manner, which did not hide his enthusiasm, Mr. Wenders firmly shook Mr. Burdick’s hand and begged to see the stories that accompanied these marvelous works of art.  Excited to have a publishing deal, Mr. Burdick promised to return the next day with the fifteen stories and would then be able to talk business with Mr. Wenders.  Because of the torrential downpour of rain, Harris Burdick asked to keep the images there with Wenders and promised to return the next day first thing in the morning.
        As morning of the next day approached, Mr. Burdick did not show.  By noon there was still no appearance of the man in the oval glasses nor were there stories to accompany the charcoal drawings which sat proudly on Peter Wender’s desk.  By 2:00 pm Mr. Wenders approached his secretary to see if perhaps there were any messages from Mr. Burdick.  There were none.  And as the day faded into night and Mr. Harris Burdick did not show up, so it was with next day and the next and the next.  Weeks passed, and then months.  As the years went by the mystery of Harris Burdick remained.  Whatever happened to that imaginary young man whose pictures were of such delight and intrigue?  Why would a man who had fame and fortune at his fingertips vanish into the night?  And what of his images, possessing a title and first introductory line?  What were the heroic, amusing, creative, and scary stories that were meant to join these pictures?  Therein lies the true mystery of Harris Burdick...

For  a printable version of this background story to share with your students, click here.

Burdick Pictures

        The following images are the work of Harris Burdick.  Students involved in this telecollaborative creative writing project will be selecting one of these images to work with.  From these images the students will be drawing their inspirations.  Notice the great detail in each picture that will help capture students imaginations.  As described in the background story, each picture is complete with a title and the first line of an intended (but not created) story.  For this project, teachers involved will want to purchases these photos so that students can examine them at length (see lesson plan for the link for resources/materials).

Archie Smith, Boy Wonder

A tiny voice asked, 'Is he the one?'

Under the Rug

Two weeks passed, and it happened again.

A Strange Day in July

He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.

Missing in Venice

Even with her mighty engines in reverse, the ocean liner was pulled further and further into the canal.

Another place, Another Time

If there was an answer, he'd find it there.

Uninvited Guests

His heart was pounding. He was sure he had seen the doorknob turn.

The Harp

So it's true he thought, it's really true.

Mr. Linden's Library

He had warned her about the book.Now it was too late.

The Seven Chairs

The fifth one ended up in France.

The Third Floor Bedroom

It all began when someone left the window open.

Just Desert

She lowered the knife and it grew even brighter.

Captain Tory

He swung his lantern three times and slowly the schooner appeared.

Oscar and Alphonse

She knew it was time to send them back. The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand, spelling out 'goodbye'.

The House on Maple Street

It was a perfect lift-off.

Missing in Venice

This time, she'd gone too far.


All Harris Burdick pictures are obtained from:

Van Allsburg, Chris.  (1996).  The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (Portfolio Edition).  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.