I fell in love with Chris Van Allsburg's books about a dozen years ago when one of my boys brought home a copy of The Polar Express from the library. I fell in love with his mind too, because, really, how can you read his books without contemplating the foreign country that is Chris Van Allsburg's imagination? I even know the exact moment when it happened for me, several spreads into the book.
Two wolves, standing silent in snow beneath the dark trees, watch the train take the boy away. A third wolf trots out of view, its head low, its gaze intent. The scene is like a still taken from a dream you never knew you'd had. There's the contrast of the night forest and the warm lights of the train. Then there are the beautiful wolves, but do they portend danger?
It was one of those touchstone moments for my family, discovering a book that could render a world without boundaries. The Polar Express was transporting, so spellbinding, in fact, that I can still recall the illustration in all its detail without ever cracking the book.
We went on to read many of Van Allsburg's books, with all their twists and turns, their unexplained endings, their bad ants and the games that come to life, their flying sailboats and the white dog that turns into a duck.
Or did he? Life is full of mysteries, we tell our children, but they already know.
Tomorrow in Manhattan, 300 people will come together to thank the people who have created the children's books that have sustained generations of parents and children. The Carle Honors, hosted annually by The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, celebrates artists, writers, publishers, philanthropists, and advocates for arts and literacy. This year's honorees are Chris Van Allsburg; Lynda Johnson Robb and Carol Rasco of Reading Is Fundamental; Barbara Bader, author of the seminal book American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to The Beast Within; and editor and publisher Phyllis Fogelman Baker. Eric and Barbara Carle, the museum's co-founders, will be there to welcome the honorees and Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi will be co-chairs.
There is always a joyful air at The Carle Honors -- a roomful of people who have a calling, and are grateful to be reminded of that. With Van Allsburg there, I half expect all our seats will levitate in his presence, like the nun's in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. For me, the museum's director, it will also be a small milestone as a parent -- a chance for me to thank Chris Van Allsburg for taking my family along on his interior journeys, for creating so many memories for my boys.
To learn more about The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, visit www.carlemuseum.org.