It’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 believe 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.”