The Polar Express

Common Sense Media says

One of the most beautiful Christmas books.




Caldecott Medal and Honors

What parents need to know

Positive messages

A boy about eight-years-old sneaks out of his house.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that lush drawings of the winter world seen through the eyes of a child complement the quietly elegant story.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Did you hear that sleigh bell? One young boy, whose friends are beginning to doubt Santa's existence, stays awake listening for that telltale jingle to validate his faith. What he hears instead is the toot of a train horn, signaling the beginning of one of the most beautiful Christmas books of all time.

Is it any good?


Children will listen intently to every word and study every picture as this beautiful and mysterious story unfolds. This tale's appeal traverses all age groups because it avoids the cuteness of many Santa stories and instead deals with deep magic. By the end of the story, the boy realizes that many people outgrow their belief in Santa, as one by one his friends and family stop hearing the bell. His own belief, however, rings true to the end.

The illustrations by Chris Van Allsburg, a sculptor by training, invite readers to crawl into each scene. The night is seen in shades of darkness. Van Allsburg uses surprising perspectives on many pages, like the view from below the train bridge as the Express glides toward the North Pole.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about faith. Why can the boy and his sister hear the bell, but the adults cannot? Have you ever believed something other people told you wasn't true? Why did you continue to believe? How did you feel?

Book details

Author:Chris Van Allsburg
Illustrator:Chris Van Allsburg
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Children's Books
Publication date:October 28, 1985
Number of pages:29
Award:Caldecott Medal and Honors

This review of The Polar Express was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 4 and 10 year old Written bylexijacksmom August 17, 2009
Parent of a 2, 4, and 4 year old Written byFowlerFan May 14, 2011
Great book. Our kids like to read it year round.
Kid, 12 years old December 19, 2009

perfect childrens book

the book is fun and perfect for younger kids!


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