I love Christmas. I always have. Not the day itself so much as the build up: the lights, the carols, the decorations, the parties with family and friends. When I began working in children's book publicity at Houghton Mifflin, I was thrilled to be on "The Polar Express" team. The Caldecott medal winner, by children's book icon Chris Van Allsburg, tells the story of one boy's magical journey to the North Pole, a trip that restores his faith in Santa Claus. It is a book about hope and joy and how kids can possess a more unfettered wisdom than adults, and it is the summation of all that is great about the holiday season.
One of the best parts of my job is attending book signings with Chris and hearing the stories from people about what "The Polar Express" means to their families. Yes, some of them can be kind of crazy but that just keeps things interesting: people from all walks of life have embraced this book, and that is a rarity. I love seeing kids gaze up at Chris with awe and a sense of camaraderie, knowing they share a secret. (I also love telling them about Fritz, the small bull terrier that makes an appearance in each of Van Allsburg's books, but that's another blog post...)
As a children's book publicist, I follow the evolution of ebooks with great interest. There are innovative companies experimenting with ways to move the picture book experience online. Many new books have an online component built right into their storylines. Every marketing campaign now includes extensive online efforts.
As we made plans to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Polar Express", we thought about the best way to take one of our treasured classics, with all its nostalgia and rich, gorgeous oil pastel illustrations, and extend the experience online. Our Countdown to Christmas Calendar, with a new activity, game, or contest for each day in December, feels like the perfect blend of the old -- a beloved picture book -- and the new -- a widget for booksellers, bloggers, librarians, teachers to use on their blogs and sites. To see the calendar, take a look at www.polarexpress.com, and share your own holiday traditions while you are there.
Soon after I began working at HMH, I was reading "The Polar Express" with a friend and her kids, all snuggled down with our hot chocolate and slippers. As we finished, her son took a last look at the boy's attire throughout the magical adventure, turned to his mother and said, "I need a blue bathrobe." And so began a new family tradition -- a blue bathrobe each year with a Christmas bell tucked in the pocket.
And, yes, the bell still rings for me, as for all who truly believe.