Little Literary Minds: The Polar Express

It’s no secret that I love to read. I’m also really passionate about reading at an early age. The benefits kids get from reading–and being read to–are so extensive and reach into every part of their lives. So I’d like to introduce this monthly column where I pick a children’s book and offer “extracurricular” activities to go along with it to help encourage reading and make it an exciting part of life. I’m starting with JC’s favorite holiday book–The Polar Express.

To say my kid loves trains would be the understatement of the year. He’s obsessed, and has been since he was hardly walking. So you can imagine that The Polar Express is a staple in our house year round. In fact, he’s running around the house in a conductor’s shouting, “tickets, please!” as I type.

The Polar Express is a great book full of rich language and illustrations, and there are so many real life activities that you can do after reading it. There is, of course, the movie. It has a great soundtrack, too!

This year, I made JC a “Conductor’s Kit” with a supplement book, tickets, a sleigh bell and, of course, a conductor hat.


The supplement book, The Polar Express Keepsake Memory Book, is a scrapbook of sorts based on the movie. It has sections on the history of steam trains, different types of ice and snow, and the history of holiday traditions, all in relation to The Polar Express. Based on your child’s interest level and willingness to sit still, I’d say it’s appropriate for ages 5+.

Polar Express Keepsake book

I found a website where you can purchase “authentic” Polar Express tickets, but I thought they were a little pricey so I printed out a set I found here on Pinterest. JC uses a small, empty stapler to pretend to punch the tickets.


The sleigh bell I had in our box of Christmas decorations and even though he’d seen it before, it was still exciting because it was in a new setting.

I ordered the conductor’s hat from Amazon.

Hot chocolate would also be a great addition to the kit, because there’s a fun scene in the book and the movie where the kids on the train drink hot chocolate “as thick and as rich as melted chocolate”. I didn’t include it on my kit because JC isn’t a fan of sweet stuff.

The kit is a great starting off point for pretend play or as part of a “Polar Express Party”. JC likes to make a train with couch cushions and chairs and act out scenes from the book.

This time of year there are also a lot of opportunities for Polar Express themed train rides and story times. Big chains like Barnes & Noble do a Polar Express story time, but be sure and check your local independent bookstore, too–we went to one last year where all the kids got to wear their pajamas, and after the story they wrote letters to Santa.

Down here in the south, almost every train excursion company and museum offers some type of Polar Express themed event. These can be really thrilling, but be sure your family knows what to expect–riding on an actual steam train can be overwhelming for a kid who has only ridden a little mall train. The whistles are REALLY loud. Also, if your child is like mine and has the story memorized, be sure to confirm with them how a ride on the Polar Express in your town may be different from the one in the book–Santa might get on the train, for example, or you might drive through the “north pole” but not be able to get off.

What I love most about these activities is that they stem from a book, and help ignite a love for stories without being anything like “school work”.

What are your favorite holiday stories?


2 thoughts on “Little Literary Minds: The Polar Express

  1. I couldn’t agree more with what you said about the importance of reading to children and the possibilities it creates for them. And finding activities to go along with the book and make it into a bigger world that you and your child can participate in is a great idea. Not only does it help boost your child’s interest in books and enhance their imagination…but gives us as adults a chance to see the world through their eyes and what they’re experiencing. And who can’t benefit from a little bit of child wisdom.

    I’m promoting the same types of activities for my books so I’m glad to see there are other adults out there that seek to do the same things. If you guys find time, maybe you or JC can check out our first book on youtube: I’d love to hear any of your thoughts.


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