The Stranger

October 27, 2015

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The Stranger

By Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Company

1986

AR 3.7, Lexile 640

The Widow’s Broom

By Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Company

1992

AR 4.7, Lexile 810

Today my husband and I went on a hike at our local arboretum. We love to go there every October to wander the trails and take pictures of the amazing trees. However, a few years ago after we waited 45 minutes on a weekend just to get through the gate and then more time searching for a parking space, we told ourselves that perhaps we would skip our fall hikes at the arboretum until we retired. We reassured ourselves that we would continue to go there throughout the year for the trails and the peacefulness which leads one to believe that you’re really out in the country, just not in October. Well this year is different! One of the perks of being retired is that we can go to the arboretum during the week! It was amazing. It was so peaceful. We were both taking pictures and constantly remarking about the beauty in the forests. I was thankful to be outside and to spend time with my husband in the midst of the splendor of the trees. I was thinking, maybe this retirement idea might work after all (I’ve had my doubts)!

As we hiked, I began to think of the books I most loved sharing with my classes in October. With less than one week remaining until Halloween I thought of my definite favorite, The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg. I’m sure you’re familiar with some of Van Allsburg’s other books, such as The Polar Express and Jumangi (both Caldecott winners), but he has written many other picture books as well. His books have amazing illustrations, as well as mysterious and intriguing stories. They sometimes have black and white charcoal pencil illustrations, but other times the illustrations are pastels. When asked why this is, Mr. Van Allsburg explains in his online biography (http://hmhbooks.com/chrisvanallsburg/faqs.html) that he always imagines all of his stories before he begins and sometimes the pictures are black and white and other times color. He’s not certain why this is, but this is how he works!the stranger pic 2

In The Stranger Farmer Bailey hits a man with his car and then takes him home to recuperate. The farmer’s family becomes very fond of the stranger, as his stay stretches into weeks, because the stranger has no idea who he is or where he came from. At the same time, Farmer Bailey realizes that fall is not arriving as it should. It had begun to come, but now it seems like summer. Chris Van Allsburg skims back and forth across the lines of reality and fiction, as the mysterious events continue. His illustrations almost come alive, although the story is a fantasy. These draw the reader into the story and lead to many questions. For example,  Why is the doctor’s thermometer stuck on zero? Why do the rabbits run toward the stranger, rather than away from him? Why are the farm trees green when the surrounding trees have turned orange?

I also loved to share Van Allsburg’s The Widows Broom. It is another mysterious story perfect for Halloween. In this story, a witch’s broom loses the power to fly, so it is abandoned in a widow’s field. The widow retrieves it and brings it into her home. The next day she is amazed to awaken and see the broom sweeping her floors and helping with many other chores. She even plays the piano for the widow during the long evenings. However, her neighbors are very suspicious of the broom and its intentions. This leads to a great ending with a wonderful twist.

I encourage you to explore all of Chris Van Allsburg’s books. Although they are picture books, children of all ages, as well as adults will be fascinated by his stories and amazed at the illustrations. Be sure, too, to visit his website, http://hmhbooks.com/chrisvanallsburg/index.html. And learn why Chris Van Allsburg says:

“The idea of the extraordinary happening in the context

of the ordinary is what’s fascinating to me.” Chris Van Allsburg

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More about Susan

Hi! I'm Susan, a wife, a mom and a recently retired elementary school librarian with 22 years of experience. One of my greatest joys is to connect kids with a perfect book, which then leads them to a lifelong love of learning. Through my blog, I'm hoping to reach parents, their children and teachers to help them find those special books. I’m also hoping to offer some tips and techniques to use with your children as you read aloud.

1 Comment

    1. As I read this book to my class every year I would sit on the edge of my chair waiting for the students to offer their interpretation of the book. There was always that one child who sat quietly in the background listening to the story hanging on every last word and low and behold they got it! Chris Van Alsburg books are like that because they kind of sneak up on you and make you think and the illustrations are one of a kind. Love this author.

I appreciate your comments!

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