Christopher White penned this review.
Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent. If you have (as we do) a beloved dog-eared copy that gets read each Christmas you won’t find any misguided, dramatic, self conscious, ‘gee, how can we repackage this for media savvy kiddies?’ mistakes; just the familiar, wonderful book in a nice matching slipcase. What you will notice most are the deep, rich, exquisitely printed illustrations.
The Polar Express: Twentieth Anniversary Edition shows the advantages digital image capture and reproduction can bring to a book when they are placed in capable hands. However excellent the four-color photo separations may have been when the original was published, the clarity and intensity of the illustrations now are astounding. The tooth of the paper and the subtle nuances of Van Allsburg’s pastels are palpable to the eye. I find myself repeatedly opening the pages to get lost in them again and again.
On the off chance there are GMR readers who have somehow missed this modern Christmas classic in its original book form (as opposed to the extended Tom Hanks animated movie version) run, don’t walk, to your nearest local book store and get your copy now. I confess; I haven’t seen the movie and have no opinion one way or another. Some fans of The Polar Express have said it was wonderful, others would prefer it be banned. I am a huge fan of the book and never fail to revisit it each year.
A child on the cusp of losing his belief in Santa and the magic of Christmas is the protagonist of (and perfect target audience for) The Polar Express. This book brings that struggle into the light as it makes the case for believing and magic. Its potent magic lies in the utter simplicity and clarity of the story line combined with the phenomenal illustrations. Both employ a balance between what is and is not shown that allows the reader/viewer endless flights of the imagination.
Okay, this isn’t a dispassionate review. It is a dedicated fan’s mash note for a book that allowed me to bridge the gap between knowledge and belief with his daughter a dozen years ago when she was that age. It is a book that brought me back to the year I woke to the sound of a sleigh bell and caught my own glimpse of Santa’s sleigh winging over the pines in the moonlight. I still hear the bell and hope you do, too.
(Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005)