Friday, October 29, 2010

The Polar Express

Author & Illustrator - Chris Van Allsburg
Published by - Houghton Mifflin Company
Ages- 4 -8 yrs

Decades ago, to a Hindu child, not very exposed to Christmas or the rituals associated with it, in the pre cable television era, in India, The Polar Express with snow and a story centred around Christmas seemed almost glamorous. While I remained undecided as to whether Santa really existed or not, I would pretend that I could hear him as well and the magic of the story stayed alive.

When I read this great tale to my daughter recently, I realized that it is all about hope and believing. About innocence and all things tender. About the generous Christmas spirit even if one does not believe in Santa as a breathing living entity.

A really warm magical book set in snow. There is so much soul in the art and the words are equally moving. No wonder it was awarded the Caldecott Medal for children's literature in1986.

The story as narrated by a young boy- opens at his bedside on Christmas eve. While his friend maintains that there is no Santa, the boy keeps looking out for a sound. He does hear one and boards a train to the North Pole.

After this incredible journey, he reaches Santa’s abode. He is the chosen one and receives the first gift of Christmas. Not entirely in keeping with most children’s wants, he chooses a simple gift - a silver bell from the reindeer’s harness.

Santa gifts it to him but the boy loses it on the way back home. Lucky again, he finds it beneath his Christmas tree at home. With a note from Mr. C asking him to fix the hole in his pocket!

While his sister, Sarah and he are able to hear the bell, his parents only view it as a broken bell which does not work.

The boy ages and many years pass. Sarah, his sister, ceases to hear the bell ring but he continues to enjoy it - “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.”

The books plays up the magic of Christmas – Santa, Christmas trees, snow, elves, gifts, reindeer and most of all the spirit of kindness, simplicity and faith.

The illustrations almost look like photos or shots from a movie. Very evocative- be it the boy eagerly looking out for Santa on Christmas eve, the train engine cruising across bridges, forests with scary looking wolves, the very French looking chefs on the train loaded with expectant children, the huge army of elves, the boy’s contained joy at being chosen by Santa, his despair at losing the gift, the boy and his sister finding the gift again on Christmas day signed Mr C…. in fact every page and the huge amount of detail on it, is a pleasure for young and old readers.

Words are very effectively used to complement the soft, gently mysterious and beautiful artwork.

The boy remains unnamed through out. While one could assume it is the author himself narrating the story, I prefer to think it could be anyone who is reading the book, making it more charming and accessible to the reader.

Do visit the website to learn more about this book .


sathish said...

Art, We enjoyed Allsburg's 'Jumanji' at home. One of the books where both the kids liked it a lot.

His illustrations are eerily life like. Aren't they?

artnavy said...

Absolutely Satish!

The wolf in the forest in Polar express seems to have a glint in its eyes!!

nanands said...

You may say faith is blind or religion is the opium of the people but the fact remains that faith often heals even if it does not cure. When physical and mental faculties begin to decline it is faith which enables us to deal with life. I am reminded of The Miracle by Irwing wallace.

Meera Sriram said...

Have seen his books many times. Eager to pick them up next time.
Also checked out his website. There is a collection of 'polar express' themed puzzles and games - very cool!

artnavy said...

cant agree more

i am not too sure but this book is sort of a cult classic? made into a movie and so on...

sandhya said...

Wowowow! This is one that I'm certainly going to look for. Have heard about the movie based on this, but not the book. We're fans of Jumanji here too.

Bear with me as I share this. I was smiling as I read the review, as we had a similar situation at home last Christmas. Although Hindus, we celebrate Christmas for the fun factor, especially as we had read Raymond Brigg's Snowman and Father Christmas. A always makes a list for Santa well in advance-"what if Santa needs enough time to get my gift, as he has to get gifts for every child?" The gifts are duly delivered after she goes to sleep on Christmas eve, and much exclaimed over the next day.

Last year, she asked me if Santa really existed. As also tooth fairies. I asked her what she thought. To which she replied- "I don't know. But I think he does." So I told her that it all depends on her. Santa does exist for those who believe in him. So if she believes he (or the tooth fairies, or God-take your pick) exists, then he does.

Which has satisfied her. I don't know about this year. I hate to see the innocence ebb away as she grows older.:(

Thanks, Art, for this review.

artnavy said...

Sandhya- lovely.

we too celebrate christmas with fervour though only the tree decorating ..not gifts so far and ocassionally Halloween as well!

BTW the book is celebrating 25 yrs this year.

Tharini said...

Like Sathish says...his illustrations are eerily lifelike. The Polar Express is a vintage classic in every way and a must have in the shelf! Thanks for the neat review!

Choxbox said...

Beautiful pick. Agree re the illustrations.

I found this book in a used books shop and was fascinated. Was a hit, as expected.

utbtkids said...

We love Allsburg's illustrations, Art.
Very much Caldecott worthy.

artnavy said...

thanks tara, chox, utbt

chox- pray tell me where is this bookshop if in blore..

Poppins said...

Loved the movie, havent read the book. Sounds like a winner!

sandhya said...

Got hold of this book sometime back. The kid agrees with my earlier comment!
Thanks, Art, for this one.

artnavy said...

It is indeed so, Poppy's mom.

Lovely to hear that Sandhya!

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