Front cover of an edition of The Polar Express.

The Polar Express (ISBN 9780395389492) is a Caldecott Medal-winning 1985 children's Christmas book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.

A 3D computer animated musical fantasy film based on the book was released in 2004.


One Christmas Eve, a young boy is sleeping quietly in his bed, waiting for Santa Claus to come, despite having been told by a friend that Santa does not exist. Late that night, a train shows up, waking the boy up, and stops right in front of his house. The boy puts on his slippers and robe and goes outside. He sees a conductor looking out from one of the coaches, who tells him the train is called the Polar Express and that it is going to the North Pole. The boy decides to board the train.

On the train, the boy sees other children in their pajamas. They sing Christmas carols and are served hot cocoa and Christmas candies that have white nougat centers. The Polar Express passes through villages and forests, climbs mountains and goes over the ice caps until it finally reaches the North Pole.

The North Pole is a big city filled with factories where the Christmas toys were made. The children, however, are confused by the lack of presence of elves. The conductor explains that they are gathering at the North Pole Square to watch Santa give the first gift of Christmas to one of the children on the train. Soon, the train arrives at the square where there are hundreds of elves and comes to a stop. The conductor and the children get off the train and press through the crowd of elves to get to Santa's sleigh. The reindeer are prancing with excitement, which makes the silver bells hanging from their harnesses ring, and the boy enjoys the sound. Santa eventually arrives and chooses the boy as the one to receive the first gift of Christmas. The boy tells Santa that he wants one of the silver bells, so Santa asks one of the elves to cut a bell from the reindeer's harnesses and toss it to him. He holds up the bell, declares it the first gift of Christmas and hands it to the boy, who puts it in his pocket. Suddenly, the clock strikes midnight, so the boy gets off the sleigh and Santa flies away to deliver the presents.

The conductor and the children board the Polar Express again and the children are excited to see the bell. The boy reaches for it into a pocket, only to feel a hole. One of the children suggests they go outside to look for it, but the train is already on its way, leaving the boy heartbroken. The train soon stops in front of his house and he gets off. He waves goodbye from his front door. The conductor wishes him a merry Christmas, but the boy cannot hear, so the conductor shouts it with his hands cupped around his mouth right before the train leaves.

The next morning, the boy and his sister Sarah are opening their presents. Sarah finds one small box behind the tree which has the boy's name on it. Inside is the silver bell and a note from Santa explaining that it was in his sleigh. The boy shakes the bell and creates a sound both he and Sarah enjoy. Their parents, however, cannot hear it and think that the bell is broken. As time goes on, most of the boy's friends and even Sarah lose their ability to hear the bell, but the boy, even though he has grown old, can still hear it like anyone else who truly believes.

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