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Probuditi!

Enter another hypnotizing world from Chris Van Allsburg, a two-time Caldecott medalist and the creator of The Polar Express.


About the Book

With his uncanny ability to combine stunning perspectives and lush illustrations with imaginative storytelling, Chris Van Allsburg amazes audiences of all ages with his books. With Probuditi!, he has done it once again.

For his birthday, Calvin's mother gives him two tickets to see Lomax the Magnificent, magician and hypnotist extraordinaire, along with the very strong hint that he should bring little sister Trudy. But it is Calvin's birthday, so he invites his friend Rodney instead. They are amazed by what they see, and when Mom later goes out, leaving Calvin in charge of Trudy, the boys decide to finally include her in the fun — by making her the first subject of their homemade hypnotizing machine.

To their surprise, the machine works! But their elation turns to dismay when they can't remember the magic word to undo the spell and Trudy is stuck in her doggy trance, panting, drooling, and barking at squirrels, and Mom is already on her way home. The boys decide to take Trudy to the one man they know can solve their problem. This tale of sibling rivalry has a surprise ending that will satisfy younger sisters and brothers of all ages.

With stories that lend themselves to both the printed page (more than nine million books sold worldwide) and the big screen (blockbuster movies have been made of The Polar Express, Zathura, and Jumanji, and a film adaptation of The Widow's Broom is in development), Chris Van Allsburg is our foremost source of family entertainment. With this latest book, he leaves behind the fantastical and sets his story solidly in 1940s America. But in Van Allsburg's hands, even the solid ground of a small town is magical. "Probuditi," pronounced pro-boo-dih-TEE, is a Serbo-Croation word that means "awaken." Readers' senses and imaginations will come alive as they worry along with Calvin and Rodney, and as they share in Trudy's mischievous secret.


About the Author

Parents, educators, and children have been known to develop a kind of obsession with the books of Chris Van Allburg. His work appeals to such diverse audiences because it is neither simplistic nor formulaic. Van Allsburg doesn't write with an eye toward what an eight-year-old child might enjoy, but rather what he himself would like. The only consistent element of his books is the fascinating, often mysterious, and occasionally menacing way he approaches the question "What if?" What if a boy awoke one night to find a massive steam engine in front of his house? What if a roll of the dice on a simple board game could actually bring the game to life? What if a witch had to retire her flying broom?

Chris Van Allsburg was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan with the vague idea of studying law, but the art courses he took as a lark proved more interesting than anything else he studied. In 1972, he graduated with a degree in sculpture and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he continued his study of sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design. Shortly after he received his graduate degree, Van Allsburg began to show his sculpture in New York City galleries, where their surreal imagery quickly won him a reputation as an artist to watch. He didn't begin drawing until 1979, when his teaching commitments at RISD and a cold studio too far across town kept him from his sculpture.

The black-and-white artwork he created in carbon pencil and charcoal appealed to his wife, Lisa, who used pictures books in her elementary school art classes. She felt her husband's pictures had the quality of illustration, and with the encouragement of a friend, the illustrator David Macaulay, she decided to show the work to children's book editors. In Boston, Lisa visited Walter Lorraine at Houghton Mifflin, Macaulay's editor. Lorraine looked at a drawing that showed a lump in a carpet and a man raising a chair to hit it (an image much like the one in Van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick) and said, "If he can get this much storytelling content into one piece of art, I know he can create a children's book." Lisa Van Allsburg walked out with the promise of a contract, and the rest, as they say, is history.

With Probuditi!, Houghton Mifflin has published sixteen of Van Allsburg's books — from his Caldecott Honor Award–winning first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, to his space adventure, Zathura. The success of Van Allsburg's Jumanji, The Polar Express, and Zathura is no less than phenomenal: Jumanji and The Polar Express received Caldecott Medals, The Polar Express, a classic with millions of copies sold, was a blockbuster movie release in 2004. Jumanji was made into a movie in 1995, and Zathura, a New York Times bestseller, was released on the big screen ten years later, in 2005.

Chris Van Allsburg lives in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife, Lisa, and their two daughters. For more information, visit www.chrisvanallsburg.com.


A Conversation with Chris Van Allsburg

Probuditi. Zathura. Jumanji. Where do you come up with your titles?

Jumanji and Zathura I made up. In the case of Jumanji, I wanted a word that was exotic, that suggested a strange and remote place. It is the name of a city hidden deep within a jungle, and possibly the "Ju" first syllable came to me as a way of underlining its jungle environment. I always thought of it as African, though it sounds a little more like an Indian name. For the space adventure game I felt the planet name should have the same number of syllables as Jumanji, with the same second-syllable emphasis. Probuditi I did not make up. I imagined the magician and hypnotist Lomax as a European who would take his hypnotism subjects out of their trance by shouting "AWAKEN!" in his native tongue. Lomax sounded like a kind of middle European name, so I looked at a variety of translations of awaken in the languages of that part of the world and found that awaken is probuditi in Serbo-Croatian.

Many of your books deal with sibling rivalry in a very realistic way. Is this a topic close to your heart?

I wrote books for some years before becoming a father. After my children were born, people asked if I thought this would change the kind of stories I wrote. I answered no because I couldn't picture myself looking at the world through my children's eyes or creating stories specifically to hold their interest. That wasn't how I had worked in the past. I didn't expect that I would experience, vicariously, events from my daughters' lives to create stories. However, I found, as they aged, the relationship between the children inherently dramatic, what with its conflicts and power struggles played out within a fundamentally loving relationship.

Probuditi!, unlike most of your other books, is not a fantasy story. Why the change?

It was not a result of calculation or decision. I was thinking about a story that would include a stage magician who performed amazing tricks and that I would, as an illustrator, have the opportunity to create pictures of the illusions as they were performed. This idea led to creation of a young character who admired the magician. With these elements in place, I was considering a kind of peculiar and contemporary Sorcerer's Apprentice. But at some point I contemplated the possibility that the magician was also a hypnotist. This reminded me of the fascination I had with hypnotism when I was a child, and I decided that the young boy in the story would not end up misusing my elaborate stage magic or any truly supernatural magic. He would merely take the inspiration of Lomax's hypnotism and try to use it at home.

Have you ever been hypnotized?

No, and I don't want to be.

The art in the book is so tactile. Can you describe the technique you used for these illustrations?

I imagined the story taking place about sixty years ago, when magicians would still do shows in theaters (the last gasp of vaudeville). That distance in time suggested an approach that would give both the book and the setting within a little "patina." Additionally, the events of the story transpire on a very hot day, so I chose a very warm brown (burnt sienna) as the basic color. This is much warmer than the conventional "sepia" deployed for nostalgic image making. The drawings are very roughly laid out in pastel, and then the tone and details are refined with the use of pencils. It is the texture of the pencil on top of the pastel that contributes to the "tactile" nature of the finished work.

Are the setting and time period in Probuditi! based on your childhood in Grand Rapids?

Well, the period is about twenty years older. It would have been 1961 when I was Calvin's age. And the story takes place in the early forties. As for the setting, Grand Rapids I am sure played a role in my imagination. Though the town Calvin lives in is much smaller, the geography of Grand Rapids was definitely on my mind, because going "downtown" from my almost suburban neighborhood was a long walk, and there were some very big hills to climb coming back. I only walked it a couple of times, but it's a walk no twelve-year-old would want to make on a hot day pulling his sister in a wagon.

Three of your books have been made into blockbuster movies — do you have a favorite screen adaptation?

No. Each of the films has segments that succeed not only cinematically but also manage to convey what I was attempting to do on the pages of the book. It's a great pleasure to behold those moments, but because I have such a restless imagination I can't help but envision what I think a film should be and am consequently too judgmental to fairly evaluate the films. However, I feel I have been lucky to have had, in each instance, the highest standards of filmmaking put to use, and the serious commitment of very talented individuals!

Your Web site (www.chrisvanallsburg.com) is fantastic! Do you spend a lot of time on the Internet?

Not much. I do a little research (for example, to find out how you say awaken in Serbo-Croatian).

What are you working on now?

Well, after I finish the final pictures for Probuditi! I have a few book ideas I will explore, and I'll give a little thought to some film projects based on other books. I have some ideas for sculpture too. I've been thinking about a sculpture of a small house almost entirely covered by snow drifts, executed in marble. And also a stampede of chairs, about four inches high, running across rugged terrain, cast in bronze. A series of pencils with multiple points sprouting out at the end, grotesque and bulbous erasers, twisted and knotted shafts, conjoined twins, etc., in wood and titled The Effects of Low-Level Radiation on Pencils. I have lots of ideas. The problem for me has always been which one to do.

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