The Polar Express: Book Characters & Summary

Instructor: Shelley Vessels

Shelley has taught at the middle school level for 10 years and has a master's degree in teaching English.

''The Polar Express,'' by Chris Van Allsburg, is a classic Christmas picture book for all ages. Read the following lesson to learn more about the story and its cast of characters.

Do You Believe?

What do you dream about on Christmas Eve? Have you ever dreamt that you were whisked away to the North Pole to meet Santa? The narrator in The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, has a similar experience, so let's take a closer look at the story.


A Night's Adventure

The narrator, or the one who tells the story, is a young boy, who, at the start of the book, is recalling one special Christmas Eve.

Through a flashback, we learn that on Christmas Eve long ago, the young boy was kept awake remembering a friend's comments about Santa: because he had never heard Santa's sleigh bells, Santa couldn't be real. The boy immediately doubted his friend's claims. Later in the night, the young boy was stirred by the sounds of an approaching train that stops in front of his house. The conductor invited the boy to board the train to the North Pole, and he agreed.

Once on the train, the boy sees all the other young passengers are dressed in pajamas and sipping velvety hot chocolate. The train crosses through thick forests, up mountains, and over the Great Polar Ice Cap.

North Pole Magic

After a long journey, the train finally comes to a halt at the North Pole. The conductor explains to the children that thousands of elves are gathered in the city center waiting for Santa to give his first gift of Christmas to whomever he chooses.

The children reach the city center and see the elves, Santa, sleigh, and reindeer. The crowd cheers at the anticipation of Santa's first gift. To our narrator's surprise, Santa chooses him to receive it! When Santa asks the boy what gift he would like, he thinks back to his earlier conversation with his friend and asks for one of Santa's sleigh bells. Santa promptly snips one off and gives it to the delighted young boy. The boy then put the bell in his bathrobe pocket for safekeeping. Shortly after, Santa and reindeer fly off into the night.

Santa Gives the Narrator One of His Sleigh Bells

Panic on the Train

Once aboard the train home, the children ask the narrator to see Santa's bell. The boy reaches into his pocket to find that it is missing; the bell slipped out through the hole at the bottom of his pocket! Without time to search the North Pole before the train departs, the boy just had to accept that the bell was gone forever.

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