This book is widely considered a classic despite it's relatively young age compared to other books holding "classic" status in people's minds. Published in 1985 and year after year since then, has made it's way into regular rotation during the Christmas season. Van Allsburg won the annual Caldecott Medal for illustration of an American children's picture book. Also it has famously been adapted into an Oscar nominated animated film.
A young boy, who used to adore Christmas, hears a train whistle roar. To his astonishment, he finds the train is waiting for him. He sees a conductor who then proceeds to look up at his window. He runs downstairs and goes outside. The conductor explains the train is called the Polar Express, and is journeying to the North Pole. The boy then boards the train, which is filled with chocolate and candy, as well as many other children in their pajamas.
As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children see thousands of Christmas elves gathered at the center of town waiting to send Santa Claus on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one bell from one of the reindeer's harnesses. The boy places the bell in the pocket of his robe and all the children watch as Santa takes off into the night for his annual deliveries.
Later, on the train ride home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The boy arrives home and goes to his bedroom as the train pulls away. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken.
When the holiday season is upon us very few books capture the feeling and excitement that children feel more than this book. In my eyes this is a classic and it has a place on my children's bookshelf. I love the last line in the book... the story telling is fantastic.
The book ends with the following line:
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.