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[Saturday Reads] Chris Van Allsburg’s Magical Storytelling in “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express”


Fats here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.


“The idea of the extraordinary happening in the context
of the ordinary is what’s fascinating to me.”
— Chris van Allsburg

Since 1979, American children’s author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg has been enlightening readers with otherworldly tales of adventure and wonderment. Since we are in the midst of the holiday season, I thought it would be perfect to relive childhood through Chris Van Allsburg’s magical storytelling. His two books, Jumanji and The Polar Express, both received the Caldecott Medal award in 1982 and 1986, respectively. Both books were also recognized as ALA Notable Children’s Books and Booklist Editors Choice, among other prestigious awards.


I love board games. I remember playing a lot of Snakes and Ladders and The Game of Life when I was younger. Jumanji will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s a picture book that involves a magical board game. (Also, Robin Williams.)


For those of you who are not familiar with the story, two bored children named Peter and Judy decide to play Jumanji even though it looked like all the other board games they’ve seen. There are four simple rules to the game:

A. Player selects piece and places it in deepest jungle.
B. Player rolls dice and moves piece along path through the dangers of the jungle.
C. First player to reach Jumanji and yell the city’s name aloud is the winner.
D. VERY IMPORTANT: Once a game of Jumanji is started it will not be over until one player reaches the Golden City.


What follows is a bizarre adventure where everything that happens in the game comes to life. The sequence of events in the book appear shorter than those in the movie but Chris Van Allsburg manages to give readers a thrilling ride to the unknown. I love how Chris Van Allsburg’s monochromatic illustrations perfectly (and subtly) capture the merging of fantasy and reality. The clever twist in the end is what did it for me. I always like the element of surprise in Chris Van Allsburg’s works.


Christmas is fast approaching. In no time, you’ll see The Polar Express movie being played in different cable channels. I’ve only seen the movie once, in very low volume, and not even in full. It looked great except for the conductor looking like Tom Hanks. (Insert uncomfortable silence here.)


Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express is another masterpiece that will remain a children’s classic and a holiday favorite. I like how the story begins with a boy who was told by a friend that he would never hear the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh because there was no Santa. The boy never believed his friend. On Christmas Eve, the boy saw a train standing perfectly still in front of his house.

It was wrapped in an apron of steam. Snowflakes fell lightly around it. A conductor stood at the open door of one of the cars… “This is the Polar Express.” I took his outstretched hand and he pulled me aboard.


The beauty of The Polar Express comes from the magic of believing and the power of childlike wonder. The full-color pastel drawings and the tender storytelling are juxtaposed beautifully in The Polar Express. It’s a great magical book to read aloud to children on a cold winter night.


#AWBRead2015 Challenge Update: 105, 106 (35)

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Chris Van Allsburg’s Magical Storytelling in “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express”

  1. Hi Fats, similar to what I posted in our Facebook page – I have just recently learned from a librarian friend of mine how Polar Express has been dismantled and dissected into smithereens by Mary Galbraith who noted its Nazi-Hitlerian elements with the ‘chosen ones’ and its Aryan leanings. Here is the link to the entire academic article by Galbraith


  2. I’ve never read these books! I’ll go look for them! 🙂


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