The Polar Express: A Favorite for Three Decades

van_allsburg$chris_hresIt’s been three decades since “The Polar Express” first came chugging off the pages and into our lives, enchanting us with the story of a young boy who boards a train on Christmas Eve to take a fateful and reaffirming journey.

In the book, which has sold more than 6.5 million copies, author Chris Van Allsburg weaves a tale of fortifying traditions and intensifying feelings we already have about the holiday. It begins as a young boy listens for the sound of Santa’s sleigh bells hardly hoping to beliPolarExpress30theve anymore after a friend has told him that Santa doesn’t exist.

“That theme deals with the coming of age transition that parents are reluctant to witness in their children,” says Van Allsburg, who is on a multicity tour including a stop hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, to celebrate the book’s 30 years of popularity.

“Their children are leaving childhood behind and mom and dad are sorry to see it happen. The book addresses that issue and might even delay the inevitable for one or two Christmases.”

Van Allsburg, formerly a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, who used oil pastels to illustrate “The Polar Express,” giving it a dreamy fantastical look, describes that medium as unwieldy and “not particularly well suited for detail but goof for atmospheric effects.”

Interestingly, he hadn’t used it before and hasn’t since, adding to the one-of-a-kind charm to both the story and the illustrations. The book also was turned into a movie with Tom Hanks starring as the kindly conductor.

When asked about the sustaining popularity of his book, Van Allsburg says that both the train ride and the anticipation of Santa Claus are two reasons he thinks the book remains a favorite.

“This makes it an ideal book to read as the holiday approaches.” he says. “When children are already primed by the season to hear a story about the remarkable event that is just days away.”


Author: Jane Simon Ammeson

Jane Simon Ammeson is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, food and personalities. She writes frequently for The Times of Northwest Indiana, Mexico Connect, Long Weekends magazine, Edible Michiana, Lakeland Boating, Food Wine Travel magazine , Lee Publications, and the Herald Palladium where she writes a weekly food column. Her TouchScreenTravels include Indiana's Best. She also writes a weekly book review column for The Times of Northwest Indiana as well as food and travel, has authored 16 books including Lincoln Road Trip: The Back-road Guide to America's Favorite President, a winner of the Lowell Thomas Journalism Award in Travel Books, Third Place and also a Finalist for the 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the Travel category. Her latest books are America's Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness and Classic Restaurants of Northwest Indiana. Her other books include How to Murder Your Wealthy Lovers and Get Away with It, A Jazz Age Murder in Northwest Indiana and Murders That Made Headlines: Crimes of Indiana, all historic true crime as well Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Brown County, Indiana and East Chicago. Jane’s base camp is Stevensville, Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. Follow Jane at;;;, and on her travel and food blog and book blog:

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