To open our Bimonthly theme of “Everything Dahl and Magical” – let me begin with a sprinkling of the magic of Van Allsburg’s Caldecott-winning narrative in his The Garden of Abdul Gasazi.
The Lost art of Dog-sitting: Alan and Fritz Tandem. If I were to think about what makes Van Allsburg an amazing book artist and author, it would be the fact that he is able to weave a seemingly simple narrative together yet twist it in such a way that it becomes otherworldly and plain magical.
The book seems fairly simple enough with the young Alan Mitz asked by Miss Hester to ‘babysit’ her ‘bad-mannered’ dog Fritz one sunny afternoon with the specific instructions to “give him his afternoon walk.”
Little did Alan know that such a walk would take them over a ‘small white bridge’ on the other side of the road, straight into (see below)
The Garden of a Retired Magician (who dislikes dogs). Yes, there is a sign which could be found a short distance beyond the bridge which says quite clearly:
ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS GARDEN. At the bottom it was signed: ABDUL GASAZI, RETIRED MAGICIAN.
Naturally, Fritz being sprightly and feisty and all shades of naughty raced through the path to bring him right into the heart of Abdul Gasazi’s garden, the Retired Magician. Alan has no choice but to follow the dirt path, go through the forest, following Fritz’ tracks, leading him into the imposing house of the magician himself.
Whether Alan finds Fritz in the end, and how the magician received Alan inside his home, I shall leave for you to discover. In an interview done with Chris Van Allsburg by Eduplace.com – he intimated that Fritz is actually based from a dog that he knows in real life. In the interview he noted:
The dog, Fritz, is special to Van Allsburg, because he is based on a real dog Van Allsburg once knew. “It’s just a little thing I do to amuse myself, I guess — to always put the dog in the book as a little homage to him,” he says (source here).
Yet again, Chris Van Allsburg effectively played around with the boundaries of the real and the fantastical, taking the reader to an awesome surreal journey you can’t possibly miss, especially if you are a huge Van Allsburg fan.
Teacher Resources. Being a Caldecott Honor book, I did not have any trouble finding teacher resources for this Van Allsburg creation. Houghton Mifflin has created a teacher’s guide that includes a summary of teaching ideas, and a classroom activity that includes describing characters without dialogues among others. There is also a downloadable PDF File from Moffettschool which consists of reading comprehension questions, assessment items that teachers can actually use with their students (multiple choice items and the like), written language and convention items as well. Enjoy!
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. Written and Illustrated by chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1979. Book photos were taken by me. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.