The Polar Express is a 1985 children's book (ISBN 0-86264-143-8) written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, a former professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was adapted as a Academy Award nominated animated film in 2004.
The book is now widely considered to be a classic Christmas story for young children. It was praised for its detailed illustrations and calm, relaxing storyline. In 1986, it was awarded the Caldecott Medal for children's literature. The book is set partially in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the author's home town. It is published in both soft and hard-copies.
As the book begins on Christmas Eve, a young boy is lying in bed waiting to hear the sound of Santa's sleigh bells. Suddenly, a magical train called the Polar Express pulls up in front of his house, and the boy is invited to journey to the North Pole. The train is filled with children, all dressed in their pajamas, who drink hot chocolate as rich as melted chocolate bars and the train rumbles on.
As the train reaches the North Pole, the boy and the other children see thousands of elves gathered at the center of town to send Santa on his way. The boy is handpicked by Santa Claus to receive the first gift of Christmas. Realizing that he could choose anything in the world, the boy asks for one beautiful-sounding silver bell from Santa's sleigh. The boy places the bell in the pocket of his robe and all the children watch as Santa takes off for his yearly delivery.
Later, on the train home, the boy discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. On Christmas morning, his sister finds a small package for the boy under the tree, behind all of the other gifts. The boy opens the box and discovers that it is the bell, delivered by Santa who found it on the seat of his sleigh. When the boy rings the bell, both he and his sister marvel at the beautiful sound. His parents, however, are unable to hear the bell and remark that it must be broken.
The books ends with, "At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."