In the Sept. 1 issue, we rounded up this year’s Christmas and Hanukkah picture books. If there are any Kwanzaa books this year, I don’t know about them, and the same goes for Diwali, Tet, and other holidays that occur around the solstice (not to mention the solstice itself). As always, there’s a huge imbalance. Of the 53 books included in our roundup, just eight are about Hanukkah—and one of the other 45 is about a little Jewish girl who wants to celebrate Christmas.
One of the Christmas books coming out this fall that you won’t see in the roundup is the 30th-anniversary edition of The Polar Express. After all, who really needs a review of The Polar Express at this point? HMH Books for Young Readers wouldn’t be issuing a special edition (with keepsake ornament and free download of the Liam Neeson audio; access code: RING) if it weren’t both well-known already and beloved. But I’ve always had mixed feelings about it.
Yes, it won Chris Van Allsburg his second Caldecott (Jumanji was his first). Yes, the illustrations are nothing short of masterful. They glow. As a New Englander, I love Van Allsburg’s depiction of the North Pole as a red-brick mill town.
I keep wondering, though, who is its real audience?
After all, the story hinges on the protagonist’s persistent belief in Santa Claus. Only those “who truly believe” can hear that silver bell. But giving voice to that notion opens up the possibility of disbelief. How many little believers finish the story wondering, “Gosh, is there really a Santa Claus?” It makes me wonder whether its most natural audience isn’t really nostalgic adults rather than children themselves. And of course, they are the ones buying it.
Ka-ching—er, ring, ring
Vicky Smith is the children’s & teen editor.