“The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburgh

If you do not have the book you and your child can listen to the book read by Lou Diamond Phillips.  At http://storylineonline.net/ 
(Just click on the left under more stories and look for Polar Express)

On Christmas Eve a boy is taken on a mysterious train to the North Pole. The trip to the pole is a glorious experience through dark forests and high mountains. When he arrives, Santa chooses him to be the child that receives the first gift of Christmas. He asks for an receives one bell from the harness of the reindeer. It is with great sadness that he discovers he has lost the bell on the way home. At home he finds the bell again, and learns a special secret about it.

Book Summary:

Other subjects to cover in conjunction with the story: trains, winter weather, and the North Pole. Here’s another book to read online and after reading. there are links to make your own book.

A Winter Train Ride


“The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburgh

More terrific Train Stories:
“Freight Train” by Donald Crews
“William and Night Train” by Mij Kelly
“Two Little Trains” by Margaret Wise Brown
“All Abroad Trains” by  Deborah Harding
“Train to Somewhere” by Eve Bunting
“The Little Engine That Could” by

Train Books/Stories That Rhyme
(great rhythm & rhyme for building phonemic awareness)
“Train Song” by Diane Siebert
“I love Trains” by Philemon Sturges
“Clickety Clack” by Robert Spense
“The Caboose that got Loose” by Bill Peet

Polar Express Resources for Teachers and Librarians 
Little Giraffes Polar Express Theme
Education World’s Taking the Polar Express to Learning
All Aboard the Virtual Vine Express (Polar Express)
Blanchard Elementary’s Polar Express Resources
All Aboard the Polar Express with Ms. Jacoby’s Classroom
Polar Express Weblinks and more
Polar Express Day at Mrs. Pearce’s Classroom

Ride the Polar Express (lots of printables for your theme)
Winter Train Ride Book (PDF file) by Mrs. McGowan
Polar Express Printables, games, coloring sheets, and more
Polar Express Story Sequencing Strips (PDF file)
The Official Chris Van Allsburg’s site

1. Ask children to imagine their own magical midnight train ride and talk about what they see on their journey and what their final destination looks like.GROUP ACTIVITIES
 1. Read book as a Christmas present to group. Set a scene for a train ride and simulate a ride to the North Pole. Set up pairs of small chairs in two parallel rows with a center aisle for the imaginary train ride. In each child’s chair place a warm cup of hot cocoa and softly play winter music as the group boards the train. When everyone has had his or her ticket checked and is settled, read the book aloud as you ride along. Encourage the students to tell you of the sights they see as they ride along. Ring your bell to add an extra dose of magic to the part of the book that talks of the bell.

2. Talk about what type of clothing you would wear if you were  going to the North Pole.

3. Talk  about what trains carry in their train cars.   


Variation: Have your children wear or bring their pajamas for the day (optional).  Gather around on the carpet and read the story The Polar Express  to your class.   When finished with the story, have a jingle bell  necklace strung on a thin piece of Christmas ribbon and prepared  to give each child.  Ask the children to ring their bells together to see if they truly “believe” and can hear the Christmas bells.  Have the children return to their seats to enjoy a cup of Hot Chocolate and a train shaped sugar cookie.

2. Use empty boxes, blocks, chairs, etc. make an imaginary train.

3. Plan a field trip to a local train station or watch a video on a train trip.

4. Using the spatter paint technique, make pictures that look like it is snowing.

5. Make train cars out of shoe boxes and lots of other “stuff.” Take cardboard boxes (1/2) and cut a hole out of the top (enough to put it over the child’s head – resting on their shoulders). Have the kids paint and decorate them. You can even put black construction paper wheels on the side, then put crape paper to sting them together. The kids love to “BE” trains. We sing songs and walk thru the neighborhood.

Sources: http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1919.html

6. Circle Time Activity:  Have the children bring one special gift given to them.  Students can share their item with the group and tell who gave them the gift and why their gift is so special to them.

1.Toy~Train Counting Game
Make 12 large rectangle shaped train cars.  To make  each car fold a large piece of black construction paper in half.  Stape or glue up the sides leaving the top open.  Use magnets on the back (or tape) and tape the cars low on the chalkboard or wall so that students can easily reach them. . Number the cars 1-12.  

Give each child a bell. Play holiday songs to which they can ring the bells
Play a new version of Simon Says- “Conductor Says”

2. Toy Sorting and Counting
From magazines cut various pictures of toys.  Glue each set of pictures on different piece of paper.  (Example  1 board game,  2 dolls,  3 race cars, etc.) 

3. Music Game 
Give each child a bell. Play holiday songs to which they can ring the bells

4. Conductor Says
Play a new version of Simon Says- “Conductor Says”For more games, visit the following link


KinderKorner’s The Polar Express

1.  Give each child a bell. Play holiday songs to which they can ring the bells.

2.  Break the kids into groups of four. Give each group a song and have them come up with a way to accompany it with their bells.

Story Sequencing
Have a printout of a train with engine, cars, and caboose. Then have sections from the book in drawings and the students put the pictures in sequential order as they think the story will proceed. Then during the reading, the students could check their train and see if their ideas of order were correct. 
Link for printout of train (have children glue small drawings over the train cars.)

Ride the Wish Train
Art/Writing:  Give students a half sheet of lined paper.  Have students write or dictate to you one “wish” for Christmas.  Begin the sentence I wish _____________________this Christmas.  Glue each paper to a half sheet of black construction paper.  Staple another half sheet of paper on top to make a rectangle shaped book.  Write each student’s name on their black cover using a gold glitter pen.  Have children trace two circle wheels for their train car.  Hang these in the hall with a train engine at the beginning and a caboose filled with pictures of toys or a picture of Santa.  Use Christmas yarn to link the cars together.  The caption “Christmas Wishes” or “Ride the Kindergarten Wish Train” could be used above the train.
Source: http://www.kinderthemes.com/thepolarexpress.html

Pre-Reading/Writing Connections
Show the cover of the book. Ask students to brain storm to guess what the book might be about.2. Show the students a silver bell necklace you made and place it around your neck. Tell the students they will find out how important this one little bell is in the story. Tell them before they begin, we are going to have hot cocoa to drink as we read the story. Fix hot cocoa. (Students will realize they are drinking hot cocoa as the children in the story are.)

Begin reading the story. When the young boy is asked what he would like for the first gift of Christmas stop reading. Have the students speculate and guess what they think he may ask to receive. Then finish the book. After you finish, ask students why his friend could not hear the bell? Discuss why it is important for us to believe in others.

My Train Trip/Wish book

Make a book to go with the story about the students train trip. Draw pictures to go with the story.

Bring in old toy catalogues or magazines. Have the students make a wish book for their own. They could also cut out a picture of what they would wish for to go with the story they drew.


sleigh bell (wrapped in small box)
drawing supplies
Introduction Activity:
Show the small gift wrapped box (containing the bell) to the class. Ask them to speculate what’s inside. After everyone has had the opportunity to guess, select a child to open the box and show its contents. Tell the children that they will hear a story about a boy’s exciting nightime adventure and the very special gift he receives.

Read the story “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg.
Pause to discuss the illustrations (How do they make you feel?)Also, pause to discuss things that children might see on the way to the North Pole, as well as, what they might see when they arrive.At the end of the story, review the happenings of the boys very special evening.

Conclusion Activity :
Children draw pictures of what they might be seen on the way to or at the North Pole, on cloud shaped pieces of paper. To use for a Flannel board display,
make a Polar Exprees train and use the cloud shaped pictues as the puffs of smoke coming from the engine.


Note: Always end the story with the sentence, “It made the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard.” It seems a more appropriate ending for children of this age.


Pretend to move with the train as it runs on the tracks. As the train goes uphill, lean back and chug slowly. As it goes downhill, lean forward and chug slowly. On the curvy track, lean left or right. On the bouncy track, bounce up and down and make the chug-g-g bounce too.

2. Find pictures of different kinds of trains and compare them to the illustrations in the book. Which one is most like the Polar Express? Which one is least like the Polar Express?

1. Make Trains using different shapes of constructiin paper such as circle, square, recangle, triangle, etc. Have children glue onto large sheet of paper.
2. Have the children lace train shape lacing cards.

Have trays of different types of holiday cookies and serve them. Ask children what they taste? Chocolate? Cinnamon?

Show examples of different types of bells. Discuss pitch. Ring different size bells to see how size and shape can change sound.  In groups, arrange bells from highest to lowest pitch.

Pattern Block Trains

Have children create trains from pattern blocks (they’ll need to stack rectangles, etc.,  to make the train cars proportionally large enough).  After they have completed their train, have them rebuild it by gluing construction paper pattern block shapes to a black background.

Toy Train Counting Game
1. Make 12 large rectangle shaped train cars.  To make  each car fold a large piece of black construction paper in half.  Stape or glue up the sides leaving the top open.  Use magnets on the back (or tape) and tape the cars low on the chalkboard or wall so that students can easily reach them.

2. Number the cars 1-12. 

3.  Make 12 individual, number cards and place in a stocking.

4.   From magazines cut various pictures of toys.  Glue each set of pictures on different piece of paper. 
  (Example  1 board game,  2 dolls,  3 race cars, etc.)  Laminate for durability.

5. Have students draw a number card from the stocking and match it to the correct car.  Line up the cars in order.  When all of the cars are in order, have children take turns drawing a toy card from the stocking, counting the set  and matching it to the correct car and put them in the corresponding train car pocket.

6.  Keep this display set up for the week for a center activity.

~More Fun~  Use the toy cards in the train cars to sing a new version of The 12 Days Of Christmas!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
One baby doll and a choo choo train just for me!

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two race cars, one baby doll and a choo choo train just for me!  Etc.

Construction Paper Trains

Students will construct their own trains from uncut construction paper, using TLC-style cutting techniques.  Provide cotton balls to be stretched out and glued to background paper for steam from the boiler.

Reindeer Ornament Craft
Used 3 craft sticks to form a triangular reindeer head.  Glue on a large red pompom nose and two googly eyes.  As a final touch, twist brown pipe cleaners  around the top stick to form antlers.  Yarn can be added to make an ornament.

Winter Train

Make an outline of a train traced with pencil on the construction paper. Color in with chalk and then rub the chalk in one direction to look like the train is speeding and the snow was blowing past. Finally, make snowflakes by dipping fingers and Q-tips in white tempera paint.  

Source: http://www.littlegiraffes.com/polarexpress.html

Snow Scenes
There are many ways to create a snowy scene- here are a few examples: Torn white tissues pieces glued to dark blue or black paper, salt sprinkled over white paint, use Q-tips dipped in paint to create a snowy scene…

Build a village with mountains and tunnels, etc. with blocks

Twinkie Trains
Take one twinkie and 6 vanilla wafers. Use those decorator gels in the tubes(or you can use cream cheese to glue the wheels on) and have the kids decorate the twinkies then “glue” the wheels on the sides. Use a marshmallow for the smoke stack.
Marshmallow Trains

Use pretzel sticks to hook the “cars” together and use peanut butter to glue cheerios on as wheels and other features.

Hot Chocolate with mini marshmallows.
Graham Cracker Trains ~ make these flat on a paper plate.
Hostess Twinkie® Trains ~ attach cookie wheels with frosting or cream cheese
Warm Cocoa with Candy Cane stirrers, topped with marshmallows