The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.
For those of you who are uninitiated- or for those of you who only saw the movie- consider this:
It's Christmas Eve. A young boy listens in his bed for the sound of the bells on Santa's sleigh- a sound his friends assert he will never hear. He falls asleep, only to be awoken later by a different sound. Upon peering out his bedroom window, he finds a locomotive "wrapped in an apron of steam", and he heads outside in his pjs and bathrobe to investigate. The conductor of the train invites him aboard, and thus begins this boy's adventure on The Polar Express, the train that transports only a few lucky and select boys and girls to the top of the world, to the North Pole, to meet Santa before he begins his journey around the world. While on the train, the children feast on hot chocolate that is "as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars" and other magical and out of this world delights that are only surpassed by their excitement and wonder.
The train arrives at the North Pole just as the elves are gathering in the city's center to bid Santa farewell. Before he departs, Santa chooses the young boy from the visiting children to receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy knows he can choose anything he has ever wanted. What he chooses is a sleigh bell from one of the reindeer's harnesses, and when he shakes the bell, he is amazed by the beauty of the sound the bell makes- "a magical sound, like nothing" he's ever before heard. He places the bell in the pocket of his robe, and he returns to the Polar Express for the trip home.
I can't tell you what happens next because- if you don't already know what happens- to experience the full impact and power of this story- and it's heartbreak and redemption-, you must read it while concurrently gazing on Van Allsburg's lush, evocative illustrations. Trust me, the movie, in its over the top Hollywood style, completely glossed over the true spirit and simplicity of message of this wonderful book's story and artwork.
The Polar Express is a stirring and graceful portrait of the innocence and magic of childhood. It is a reminder to us all- both young and old- to keep our hearts open to the wonder around us. This book is a tear jerker, a life lesson in 32 pages, a book to be shared each and every Christmas.
Sneak peek at Part 4: Two porcine pals share the true Christmas spirit!