Today's book is The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. (He did Jumanji and Zathura as well, if that helps you get your author-bearings.) Of course there has been a movie since, as with Jumanji and Zathura. Movies are visually amazing of course, but in this case I prefer Van Allsburg's illustrations. The Polar Express, in fact, won the Caldecott medal in 1986. The paintings are large and exquisite; rich in color and detail. They make me want to cozy up by a fire and watch the snow fall down outside. Hot cocoa is involved in that wish, too. That's how good Van Allsburg is at eliciting that wintery, Christmasy feeling.
The story is a gem. In it, a boy boards the Polar Express one winter's night, and rides to the North Pole with scads of other children, clad in their jammies. They sing Christmas carols and drink hot chocolate. The train climbs mountains, crosses the Great Polar Ice Cap, and eventually reaches the North Pole, the streets of which are crowded with Santa's helpers. The boy is chosen to receive the first gift of Christmas and humbly asks for one bell from a reindeer's harness. He slips the bell into his pocket, but when he reaches for it back on the home-bound train, he feels nothing but a hole in his pocket. Devastated, he returns home. But don't you worry. This story has the most happy, magical ending of any story you've ever read. It makes me tear up every year! Please read this book! Please own this book! Please give this book to someone who doesn't! You will love it.