The Polar Express

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This article is about the book. For the film adaptation, see The Polar Express (film). For the video game, see The Polar Express (video game). For the soundtrack, see The Polar Express (soundtrack).
The Polar Express
CM polar express.jpg
The Polar Express cover
Author Chris Van Allsburg
Illustrator Chris Van Allsburg
Cover artist Van Allsburg
Country United States
Genre Children's picture book
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 32
ISBN 978-0-395-38949-2
OCLC 12162097
[E] 19
LC Class PZ7.V266 Po 1985[1]
Preceded by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Followed by The Stranger

The Polar Express is a children's book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1985. The book is now widely considered to be a classic Christmas story for young children although the point has been challenged.[a] It was praised for its detailed illustrations and calm, relaxing storyline. For the work Van Allsburg won the annual Caldecott Medal for illustration of an American children's picture book in 1986, his second.[2][3] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[4] It was one of the "Top 100 Picture Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.[5]

The book is set partially in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where the steam engine of the Coopersville & Marne railway once traveled- featuring the same line of steam engine as the 1225), the author's home town. It was adapted as an Oscar-nominated motion-capture film in 2004 starring Tom Hanks and directed by Robert Zemeckis with Van Allsburg serving as an executive producer on the film. At the premier of the movie, Van Allsburg stated that Pere Marquette 1225, formerly owned by Michigan State University and now owned by the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, was the inspiration for the story line.[citation needed] He played on the engine as a child when it was on display and was inspired by the number 1225, which to him was 12/25, Christmas Day. The real 1225 was used to create the animated image of the engine and all the locomotive sounds were recorded from the 1225.

Plot summary[edit]

As the story starts off, a young boy, who used to adore Christmas, hears a train whistle roar. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He sees a conductor who then proceeds to look up at his window. He runs downstairs and goes outside. The conductor explains the train is called the Polar Express, and is journeying to the North Pole. The boy then boards the train, which is filled with chocolate and candy, as well as many other children in their pajamas.

As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children see thousands of Christmas elves gathered at the center of town waiting to send Santa Claus on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one bell from one of the reindeer's harnesses. The boy places the bell in the pocket of his robe and all the children watch as Santa takes off into the night for his annual deliveries.

Later, on the train ride home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The boy arrives home and goes to his bedroom as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken. The book ends with the following line, which was also used in the film adaptation:

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.


Chris Van Allsburg had a creative mind for drawing even as a child but went to college to study law. However, he found himself drawing more and eventually graduated from college with degree in sculpture and went to the Rhode Island School of Design to advance in his creativity. He made children's books that are popular for both parents and children to enjoy as a family. The Polar Express became a surprise to Van Allsburg and his supporters to see that it was on the New York Times bestseller list and had published 50,000 copies.[6]

Chris Van Allsburg creative process on how he made "The Polar Express" was a step by step process in his head as to a boy visiting family, cannot sleep and it is a foggy night. Goes out and is in the woods and there would be a train waiting there. Van Allsburg asked himself, "Where would the train go" but thought deeper as to imagining it is winter and its December. Continuing his thought process he thought of the North Pole and this setting is in winter on Christmas Eve and that is where his creative mindset asked himself "Where would a child want to go on Christmas eve?[7]

Literary Significance[edit]

Chris Van Allsburg introduced the world to "The Polar Express" and ever since then it was a classic family book that many families enjoyed reading together. "Since it appeared, ''The Polar Express'' has migrated back onto The New York Times best-seller list every December. More than a million copies have been sold, and Houghton Mifflin, Van Allsburg's publisher, has printed more copies each year than the last to keep up with demand 550,000 for this Christmas season.[8] However, like all children's literature and many novels the moment it is published, the process for readers taking an interest in it is very slow.

When Chris Van Allsburg published "The Polar Express" it was not considered the best seller at first stated by the New York Times. As said "The Polar Express (Houghton Mifflin), written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, was not a best seller when it was published in 1985. But the story, about a boy who boards a mysterious train bound for the North Pole, did make the list during each of the next three Christmas seasons.[9]"


For twenty years, The Polar Express has been a worldwide bestseller and Christmas classic. A perfect keepsake for any family, this beautiful edition can be handed down to each new generation of readers.

In 1986 The Polar Express was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal and hit the New York Times bestseller list. Since that time, more than six and a half million copies have been sold, and every December it faithfully reappears on national bestseller lists. In 2004, The Polar Express became a blockbuster holiday movie. The DVD release in 2005 assures, that like the book, the movie will become a holiday classic.

The book comes in 11.4 x 0.4 x 9 inches.[10]


"The Polar Express" is a 2004 American computer animated musical fantasy film based on the 1985 children's book of the same title by Chris Van Allsburg. Written, produced, and directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film features human characters animated using the live action performance capture technique.

The film stars Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye, Jimmy Bennett, and Eddie Deezen, with Tom Hanks in six distinct roles. The film also included a performance by Tinashe at age 9, who later gained exposure as a pop singer in 2010, as the CGI-model for the female protagonist. Castle Rock Entertainment produced the film in association with Shangri-La Entertainment, ImageMovers, Playtone and Golden Mean, for Warner Bros. Pictures. The visual effects and performance capture were done at Sony Pictures Imageworks. The film was made at a budget of $165 million, a record breaking sum for an animated feature at the time. The studio first released the film in both conventional and IMAX 3D theaters November 10, 2004. It grossed $307 million worldwide.


  1. ^ On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary Edition, Vicki Smith observed for Kirkus online that the real audience of the book may be nostalgic adults rather than young children who presumably believe in Santa Claus. In effect it questions the existence of Santa Claus, for the plot turns on who does and who doesn't believe.[11]


  1. ^; ; Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  2. ^ Sullivan, Kathleen (November 12, 2004). "'Polar Express' author to discuss book's trip to screen". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 18, 2011. 
  3. ^ Association for Library Service to Children. "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938-Present". American Library Association. Retrieved August 24, 2012. 
  4. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  5. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 6, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results". School Library Journal "A Fuse #8 Production" blog. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "A Conversation with Chris Van Allsburg by Anita Silvey | The Polar Express". Retrieved 2016-02-01. 
  8. ^ Magazine, Kim Herron; Kim Heron Is An Editor Of This (1989-12-24). "VAN ALLSBURG'S EXPRESS". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-02-04. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Allsburg, Chris Van (1985-10-28). The Polar Express (1st ed.). Boston, MA?: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780395389492. 
  11. ^ "Who's Hearing Those Christmas Bells?: Wondering about the real readership of THE POLAR EXPRESS". Vicki Smith. September 10, 2015. Kirkus ( Retrieved 2016-01-22.
Preceded by
Saint George and the Dragon
Caldecott Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Hey, Al