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Chris Van Allsburg

His Final Presentation

In this illustration, a child floats on a bed near ships on a body of water. The sun emerges from clouds, bathing the scene in golden light.
Chris Van Allsburg: Just a Dream

Thursday, October 12, 2023
5:30 pm


In-person Event

Michigan Theater
603 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104


Penny Stamps Speaker Series
Open to the public
Free of charge
Watch Video

Chris Van Allsburg is one of America’s most innovative picture book creators. Since 1979, his books have blurred the line between fantasy and reality. His illustrations are provocative and eerie, often hinting at an alternate reality lurking behind the next page. His book Jumanji and its sequel Zathura became a series of Hollywood films. His most recognized book, The Polar Express, was also adapted for the big screen and is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time. 

Van Allsburg was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, where he majored in sculpture, learning bronze casting, wood carving, resin molding, and other techniques. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a master’s degree in sculpture. Shortly after receiving his graduate degree, Van Allsburg began to show his sculptures in New York City galleries.

He began drawing in the winter of 1977, when his teaching commitments at Rhode Island School of Design and a poorly heated sculpture studio far across town discouraged his customary night-time work schedule. At home, in the evening, he began creating drawings that suggested strange narratives. His wife, Lisa, an elementary school art teacher who used picture books in her classroom, thought her husband’s work might be suitable for children’s books. She showed his work to an editor, who encouraged Van Allsburg to think about writing a story that would suit the character of the pictures he wanted to make. His first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, was published in 1979.

Van Allsburg has written and/​or illustrated 21 books. He was awarded the Caldecott Medal for Jumanji and The Polar Express and received a Caldecott Honor for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. He has received the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children’s literature, a National Book Award, and has been inducted into The Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, among many other honors. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Presented with support from the Ann Arbor District Library. This project was made possible by a grant from the Arts Initiative at the University of Michigan.

Series presenting partners: Detroit Public Television and PBS Books. Media partner: Michigan Radio.


Content Notice

In accordance with the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guidelines on Freedom of Speech and Artistic Expression, the Penny Stamps Speaker Series does not censor our speakers or their content. The content provided is intended for adult audiences and does not reflect the views of the University of Michigan or Detroit Public Television.