Nicole's Reviews > The Stranger

The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg
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Sep 14, 11

Read in September, 2011

The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg is a complex and intriguing picture book. The dust jacket’s front illustration does not reveal anything about the story itself. However, in true Van Allsburg style, the gold leaf foil stamp on the front cover of the book gives a small clue to the essence of this mysterious tale. The end pages, which the reader encounters before any of the text, are also the color of orange autumn leaves. Van Allsburg cleverly inserts these autumn motifs and colors throughout the book leading the reader to speculate on what or who the stranger really is.

The illustrations in The Stranger are full color pastel drawings/ paintings, framed in a thin black border. The story appears to have taken place sometime in the past, and the double line border around the text compliments this tone of the book. The perspective changes from each page to the next as does the combination of landscape drawings and portraits. I enjoyed the subtle hues used by Van Allsburg in the illustrations, reminiscent of the end of summer when the air has a slight chill in it. The childlike and vivid expressions of the Stranger also deserve recognition. When the Stranger remembers who he is after he blows on the green leaf, turning it instantly orange, Van Allsburg is able to capture this moment accurately and honestly—it could be a photo snapshot.

This book is perhaps the most ambiguous picture book I have ever read. Van Allsburg asks the reader to fully participate in this book as he leads them on a mysterious discovery to uncover who the Stranger really is, only to leave them with more questions than answers at the conclusion of the book. Why does the Stranger seem to have this connection to the weather? Does the Stranger embody autumn? Why is he running through the field on the title page? Does the Stranger really represent the beautiful fall leaves and was somehow transformed into a human form?

This book could spark conversation between even the most reticent of readers and students. It is a triumph for Van Allsburg and although not my favorite picture book in his bibliography, definitely a work of art both in storytelling and illustration.
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