The Polar Express By Chris Van Allsburg



Christmas book

Most of you are probably very familiar with The Polar Express as both a book and a movie. It is an absolute classic and with Christmas just around the corner, I thought now was a good time to refresh the memory! We also featured this book last December – I think we’ll probably feature it every year, because it is the first Christmas book our kids pull out in December, each year and the one they want to read on Christmas Eve. There’s also a bit of Polar Express movie watching, too!


Written in the 1st person, the narrator of this story is a young boy, reaching that age when the magic of Christmas is being doubted by his peers. He, however, still believes and is lying awake on Christmas Eve, waiting to hear the bells from Santa’s sleigh. What he ends up hearing is a train pulling up outside his bedroom window – The Polar Express – on its way to the North Pole. The boy climbs aboard and, along with dozens of other children, travels the long, mountainous journey to Santa’s home. He gets to meet Santa and is chosen as the receiver of ‘the first gift of Christmas’. What he chooses as his gift and what happens from there, I will not give away, just in case this is a new book for you, but I will tell you, that the ending is beautiful and makes my eyes well up on every reading.

Why I love it:

Every year, no matter how busy I am, or how exhausted I feel by the prospect of beginning Christmas shopping, attending dozens of Christmas celebrations and entertaining on the day, somehow I always end up getting swept up in the magic of it all. Seeing the kids’ faces when our elf arrives and when the tree goes up; watching Christmas movies, singing carols, and yes, reading Christmas favourites – it all seeps in and wins me over – every single year. The Polar Express is part of that magic and I never tire of it. Unusually so, the film really does live up to the book as well, and is well worth a watch.

Themes to discuss with your child:

  • Christmas
  • Magic
  • Believing
  • Gift giving and gift receiving

Questions to ask your child:

Before reading:

  • What do you think this book might be about?
  • Do you think this is a fiction book (a story) or a non-fiction book (facts)?
  • At what time of year do you think this book is set? What makes you think this?
  • What does the word ‘Express’ mean in regards to a train?
  • Where do you think the train might be going? What makes you think this?

After reading:

  • Did you enjoy this book? Why/Why not?
  • Why do you think the boy’s parents, and later, even his sister and friends could not hear the bell?
  • Why did it keep ringing for the boy?
  • This book is set on Christmas Eve and it is snowing in the story; do we have snow at Christmas? Why not?
  • What was your favourite part of the story? Tell me why you liked it.
  • What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
  • When the boy had a chance to ask for any gift at all, he asked for a bell from the sleigh. Why do you think he wanted the bell more than any toys or games?
  • If you could receive Santa’s ‘First gift of Christmas’ what would you choose?

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