The Polar Express


The Polar Express

by Chris van Allsburg

Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985

30 pp.

Age: 3 +

Interests: Christmas, winter, trains, snow

Also by this author: Jumanji

A mysterious train arrives in the middle of Christmas Eve night to take a boy to the North Pole. The train, full of children, travels through the snowy wastes to its destination. Santa Claus is about to begin his worldwide deliveries and picks the boy to make the ceremonial first gift-request. The boy asks for a bell from his sleigh, however on the trainride back home he discovers he’s lost the bell through a hold in his pajama pocket. He is distraught until the next morning, when he finds it under the Christmas tree with a note from “Mr. C”.

This atmospheric tale is enhanced by what it doesn’t explain and leaves unknowable, which is why a movie version is bound to disappoint. (You’ve got to add a lot to pad a 30 page picture book into a feature-length movie. I have not seen the movie, but apparently it’s full of cliffhanger thrills as the train makes its reckless way north. Both unnecessary and predictable.) Van Allsburg’s full-page illustrations, as in his other books, are almost other-worldly, distant and detached, successfully evoking what it would be like to travel by train through the vast arctic night. The snowy exteriors are contrasted with the warmth and luxury of the train interiors, full of old-world period charm.

A simple story, a classic Christmas tale about darkness, excitement and mystery.

(This title available at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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