Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Polar Express and The Nutcracker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Hesperus Press)

Everyone has specific things they love about Christmas. Some people have their favorite songs and carols. Others have their favorite movies that they have to watch for it to feel like Christmas. Sadly, not too many people think about favorite Christmas books, but I am going to tell you about two classics that you might want to pick up for your kids and/or you and find time to read during the Christmas season.

The Polar Express is 30 years old this year! It's crazy to think about it being that old, as it is older than my wife! The premise of this book is that a boy's friend tells him that Santa isn't real. The boy stays awake to try and listen for Santa, The boy then ends up a train that takes him and other children to the North Pole. This train is called the Polar Express. While at the North Pole, the children encounter elves and factories and see all of the toys for Christmas being made. The boy is then chosen by Santa to be the child to receive the first gift of Christmas. For his gift, the boy wants something that will help him always believe in Santa and he is gifted with a silver bell from the reindeer's harness. Unfortunately, he loses the bell and is devastated! However, when he opens his gifts on Christmas he finds a present from Santa with the bell in it. He and his sister can hear it, but his parents think it is broken. The book ends with the boy growing up and his sister and friends not being able to hear the bell anymore. However, he still can.

This is a beautiful story with equally beautiful images. The movie definitely did not do this story, especially the ending justice.There are many editions available of this book. There is a library edition, which is HUGE, but if you have a lot of children or grandchildren, I'd recommend it so that you can have the children gather around you to listen and everyone can see the images. There is also a 30th anniversary edition that comes with downloadable audio of Liam Neeson reading the story. I honestly figured it'd be Tom Hanks reading it, but Neeson is great too. This is a story for children who are on the cusp of not believing or who may have friends trying to take the magic of Christmas from them. Highly recommend.

When I was growing up, I saw The Nutcracker ballet in elementary school. I don't remember much about it, except I was bored and I didn't really know what was going on, and if I'm honest, I don't think I cared what was going on either. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned it was a book too. The story begins with Marie and her brother Fritz waiting to receive their Christmas gifts from Drosselmeyer, their inventor godfather. They are given many gifts, but Marie's favorite gift is a nutcracker. It is tragically broken, but she mends it with her ribbon. When she goes to bed that night, she dreams of mice and toys fighting each other. She sustains a wound in the dream, and wakes up to find it is an actual wound.

While Marie is on the mend, Drosselmeyer arrives with her nutcracker repaired. He then explains to her the history of mice and nutcrackers, and why nutcrackers look the way they do. There is more to this story, which you may or may not know, but I don't want to spoil too much of it. There are elements for both boys and girls in this story. There is action and adventure, but there is also dancing and love. There's also a bit of a surprise ending, which I'm not really sure if it's how the ballet ends as well, because like I said, I didn't really care about it when I was a child. I really enjoyed this story, and it was such a short and quick read that it was hard to put it down and not finish it in one sitting. There are chapter breaks though, in case you have younger readers who need to spread out this delightful tale. There's also a brief foreword at the beginning of the book, which provides useful information on the history and origin of this story. This is particularly useful if your children use this book for a book report. Great story, and one that you should definitely read before you attempt the ballet.

These books were provided to me for free by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Hesperus Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!