This Caldecott Medal winner is a magical story that will have readers of all ages feeling the magic of Santa and Christmas. Published in 1985, the book has already secured a spot in the cannon of children's holiday stories. The two-page oil paintings are captivating accompaniments to the story, with fine detail and shading. Parents and children alike will pause the story before each page to take in the aesthetics of each picture. A copious amount of falling snow in the forefront of each picture creates a slightly fuzzy feeling, adding a pleasant dreamlike quality to the scenes. The written story matches the beauty of the pictures, with poetic phrasing, like describing the train as "wrapped in an apron of steam," and the lights of the North Pole as looking "like the lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea."
The child narrator allows little ones to step into his mind easier and live the Christmas adventure vicariously. You can ask your child what they think Santa would give them as 'the first gift of Christmas.' By discussing the gift given in the story, you can stress the message that the holidays are not all about the latest trendy gift, or the number of gifts you receive; rather, they are about family, generosity, and believing in something. Your child will likely come up with questions while studying the pictures, like "Does the North Pole really look like that," and "Is the Polar Express real?" Be prepared to see a magic spark in your little one's eyes.
My four year-old niece Emily is really in to this book this year. I read it to her last year before Christmas, but she seems to understand the messages in the story much better this year. Each time we read it, she tells me at the end that she will be able to hear the bell, since she believes in Santa Claus. She is asking for a little silver bell for Christmas this year! She believes that if she is good enough until Christmas, perhaps the Polar Express will stop at her house this Christmas Eve.