The Polar Express. by Chris Van Allsburg. Published 1985. Caldecott Medal 1986.
I love the quiet, dreamlike quality of this story and its illustrations. It captures the magical feelings kids associate with Santa Claus and manages to tug at the heartstrings of adults as well. The ending of this story never fails to leave a lump in my throat. When I was a kid, someone told the story to my class in school, and at the end, she rang a bell, telling us that only true believers could hear it. I will never forget that feeling of being able to hear it and feeling lucky to be a part of something so special. This is a book that manipulates the reader’s feelings in a wonderful way and it will always be a holiday favorite for me.
Jumanji. by Chris Van Allsburg. Published 1981. Caldecott Medal 1982.
I haven’t read this book in a long time, and for some reason, I remembered it being much longer and more detailed. The story actually goes by quite quickly, and I didn’t have the sense this time around of the urgency of the kids’ situation, or of the danger they were in. The suspense was much more tangible for me when I was a child. The illustrations are great, but even they sort of left me wanting more. I think my imagination must have added quite a lot to the story when it was read to me in childhood, because I remember much more than the book itself actually provides.
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. by Chris Van Allsburg. Published 1979. Caldecott Honor 1980.
The twist at the end of this book reminded me too much of the ending of The Polar Express, and I was a little bit disappointed that Van Allsburg expected the same idea to have the same impact twice. It makes me even sadder to realize this book came first, so the gimmick he uses wasn’t even new in The Polar Express! I also wasn’t as impressed by the illustrations as I expected. I wonder if I have grown too familiar with Van Allsburg’s style over the years to feel awed anymore.
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