magic and mystery in the garden of abdul gasazi

i have a confession: i wasn’t always a chris van allsburg fan. “polar express” was my introduction to him and it left me as cold as the frozen snow on the cover. i found his art dull, heavy, too still. 

and then i came across, “the garden of abdul gasazi.” the story was wonderfully weird and thought provoking- an island of imagination in the doldrums of most modern children’s books. what i once found heavy became sculptural, what was too still became life magically paused.  

the title page invites us along with allen as he trails fritz, the renegade bull terrier he’s dog-sitting. a sign declares, “ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS GARDEN,” signed, “ABDUL GASAZI, RETIRED MAGICIAN.”

echoing “snoopy come home”‘s famous refrain, “nooo dogs allowed!” which every child knows to mean where dogs aren’t allowed children are usually not welcome either. {except for san francisco, where dogs are allowed everywhere and children are the intruders- mostly due to their narcissistic and bullying parents who don’t care if their golden genius screams through your meal.}

the {retired} magician, abdul gasazi is both modern and timeless. with his fez, dressing gown, and cigar, he is faintly amusing and vaguely sinister. 
with an obvious love of ambiguity, the reader is left to decide whether gasazi is a skilled illusionist or a reality bending magician.

van allsburg’s art is subtle, intriguing, and perfectly still. his work as a sculptor shows through on every page. his scenes are frozen in time as if a magic spell has been cast on the players. each page is so three dimensional you feel as though you may fall into them if you lean forward too far. 

published in 1979 it was his first book.

from his official website: The first story that I wrote, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, had a dog in it named Fritz. When I thought about the kind of dog I wanted Fritz to be, I decided he should be a bull terrier. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any bull terriers that could be my model for drawing pictures. I found some photographs, but they were not what I needed. What I needed was a real dog. My brother-in-law, David, visited one day, and told me he was thinking of getting a dog, possibly a golden retriever. I told him he should get himself something more interesting. Something really unusual. I showed him photos of bull terriers and he agreed that it was a most unusual and appealing dog. 

Not long after that, he acquired a bull terrier puppy, and named him Winston. Winston became the model for Fritz, and because he was my brother-in-law’s dog, I thought of Winston as a kind of nephew. Sadly, Winston had an accident that sent him to the big dog kennel in the sky at a young age. I decided to commemorate the contribution he made to my first book by including him (or at least a tiny part of him) in all of my books. “

i look for winston in each book ;D


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