Children review The Polar Express

The Horn Book Radio Review

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Child: The Horn Book Radio Review, commentary on books for children and young adults.


Anita Silvey (AS): I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine. At Horn Book, we’ve had many years of practice in selecting books for children, but on occasion we like to test our judgements against those of children. Recently, we interviewed our young Horn Book Radio Reviewers in the Wayland, Massachusetts Public Library about The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, published by Houghton Mifflin.

One Christmas Eve, a boy boards the mysterious Polar Express, a train which rushes through the snow-covered landscape to the North Pole. There he is selected by Santa Claus to receive the first gift of Christmas. He requests only a silver bell, which he loses, but finally locates on Christmas Day.
Chris Van Allsburg’s books are part of a trend in recent years: picture books for older readers. The reviewer in Horn Book said about The Polar Express, “An outstanding example of the picture-story genre, this book is one which proves that excellence and popularity are not mutually exclusive elements. It does not compromise artistic integrity, yet it reaches out to children and to those who remain children at heart.”

Now this is what young readers from the fifth through the eighth grades had to say about The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.

Reviewer 1: My name is Laura Devoe and I really like this book. I normally like all picture books, even though I am twelve years old, I sometimes go into the library and look at them. And I think that the saying, “a picture says a thousand words” really is good for this book because you can really tell what is happening. And if you go along you kind of get an idea — without the words, you can get an idea how the story is going along.

Reviewer 2: My name is Susanna Richardson. And I liked Chris Van Allsburgh’s pictures a lot because if you looked into the picture, it could be anybody’s bedroom. And I think it must have taken a lot of thought to draw these pictures.

Reviewer 3: Hello, I’m Jonathan Sall. I just loved this book because it was detailed and had just about perfect story and pictures.

Reviewer 4: My name is Catherine Barker and I read another one of his books. It’s The Mystery of Harris Burdick, and it’s just different pictures but they’re all in gray and white and our teacher had us write a story for one of them. She showed us the picture and let us pick one out. And it’s amazing. I looked at that picture and I could think of about ten stories that could go with that one picture.

Reviewer 5: My name is Kathleen Bryant. One thing I noticed in the book was that there were no pictures of parents or adults. Well, actually, there was a picture of an adult, but there wasn’t any pictures of parents, and that sort of makes it more imaginary because parents sometimes ruin your imagination.

Reviewer 6: My name is Allison Mitchell. Once I was babysitting for this little girl and she had one of Chris Van Allsburgh’s other books out of the library and I was reading it to her and she liked the pictures most of all out of the whole book. She kept — like she wouldn’t let me turn the pages of it because she kept wanting to look at the pictures and figure out what was happening. It was The Wreck of the Zephyr.

Reviewer 7: My name is Paul Hagnow and here, like it was nothing strange, the train coming, because right here, the conductor said, “ ’All aboard,’ the conductor cried out. I ran up to him. ’Well,’ he said, ’are you coming?’ ’Where?’ I asked. ’Why, to the North Pole, of course.’ ” And that seemed strange to me that it wasn’t strange or anything: it just happened. It would be there — “Why, to the North Pole of course.” I really think this was an excellent book and I really enjoyed it.

Anita Silvey: That’s what children in the Wayland Public Library said about The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburgh. You will find a review of this book and other fine books for children in the November/December 1985 Horn Book. I’m Anita Silvey, editor in chief of Horn Book Magazine.


Child: This series of reviews is produced by Greg Fitzgerald and is made possible in part by funds of the Horn Book Incorporated, publishers of the Horn Book Magazine and books concerning children’s literature.

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This program originally aired on National Public Radio in July or August of 1986. The Radio Review was moderated by Anita Silvey and produced by Greg Fitzgerald.

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