All aboard the Reading Railroad |

All aboard the Reading Railroad

Lorie Smith Schaefer

“Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”

~Chris Van Allsburg in “The Polar Express”

Early last Wednesday morning, one of the kindergartners seated on the rug in front of me raised his hand. “

“Yes, Noah?” I said, looking up from my roll book.

“‘The Polar Express’ movie opens today.” “

“I know,” I replied, smiling. “I’ve been waiting.”

“The Polar Express,” Chris Van Allsburg’s timeless classic Christmas story about the power of faith, was published almost 20 years ago. Since that time, more than six million copies have been sold worldwide. Children who heard it when they were young are now parents who are reading it to their children. Countless teachers and librarians have shared it with a generation of children as well.

What makes “The Polar Express” a classic? It is a short, simple story about a little boy who is on the brink. He wants to believe in Santa but is beginning to have doubts. He lies awake on Christmas Eve hoping to hear sleigh bells. Instead, a huge locomotive, the Polar Express, pulls up outside his house to take him and a trainload of pajama-clad children to the North Pole. Of course, the boy meets Santa who restores his faith, a faith that lasts the rest of his life.

Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include “Forrest Gump” and “Castaway,” has transformed that little story into a full-length feature film, just in time for Christmas. The movie, through the technological magic of “performance capture,” features Tom Hanks in several roles. The trailer and the web sites and invite viewers into “a place beyond your imagination and to get there all you have to do is believe.”

Film critic Roger Ebert predicts “‘The Polar Express’ … will become a perennial, shared by the generations. It has a haunting, magical quality because it has imagined its world freshly and played true to it.”

This year, however, those of us in and around Carson City have yet another way to experience The Polar Express. For the very first time, the Nevada State Railroad Museum is offering “The Polar Express Reading and Riding Adventure” for children ages 5-10.

The two-hour adventure will include a reading of “The Polar Express,” crafts and activities, hot cocoa and a ride on the museum’s motorcar. Children will also receive a special surprise to take home.

This fun, educational and adult-supervised program, offered Dec. 18-22, will cost $6.50 per child. Call the museum at 687-6953 for more information. The museum promises a memorable journey for your children or grandchildren, but seating will be limited so get your tickets early.

In addition, the staff has stocked the museum store with everything you need to make it a Polar Express Christmas. They have a full line of Polar Express merchandise including several new books based on the movie. There is even a Polar Express game this year. As always, the store is also loaded with railroad related products for train buffs of all ages. So perhaps while the kids are riding the train, you’ll want to do a little shopping.

I was one of those children who listened for sleigh bells long after my friends had stopped; consequently, I am always looking for ways to rekindle that sense of a Christmas presence. I am still a believer in the magic of the season, the transformative power of good will, hope and faith – the belief that anything is possible. That’s why when my students ask me if there really is a Santa Claus, I always shrug and answer, “Well, there are always presents from Santa under my tree on Christmas morning.” I want to leave the door to believing open for just a little longer.

Perhaps the enduring popularity of “The Polar Express” is partly due to the fact that it allows us grown-ups to rediscover – and then pass along – that sense of innocence and wonder and hope and faith. I consider that a perfect gift. And just in time for Christmas.

Lorie Schaefer is thankful for her family and friends. She is also grateful for a job that allows her to spend her days with 43 Seeliger kindergartners for whom she believes anything is possible.