Come ride the Polar Express with us! Day Two of our Christmas stories

Come ride the Polar Express with us! Day Two of our exclusive extracts from the best stories to read to YOUR children this Christmas

All aboard for an exhilarating ride to the North Pole!  

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg

The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, first published in 1985, soon established itself as a Christmas classic about the power of belief in Father Christmas. 

It was made into a 2004 film starring Tom Hanks, who played six parts using live-action motion capture animation. 

On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound — a sound a friend had told me I’d never hear — the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh.

‘There is no Santa,’ my friend insisted, but I knew he was wrong. Late that night I did hear sounds, though not of ringing bells.

From outside came the sounds of hissing steam and squeaking metal. I looked through my window and saw a train stand perfectly still in front of my house.

The Polar Express was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985 and soon became a classic Christmas story

It was wrapped in an apron of steam. Snowflakes fell lightly around it. A conductor stood at the open door of one of the cars. 

He took a large pocket watch from his vest, then looked up at my window. I put on my slippers and robe. I tiptoed downstairs and out the door.

‘All Aboard,’ the conductor cried out. I ran up to him.

‘Well, he said, ‘are you coming?’

‘Where?’ I asked.

‘Why, to the North Pole of course,’ was his answer. ‘This is a Polar Express.’

I took his outstretched hand and he pulled me aboard.

The train was filled with other children, all in their pyjamas and nightgowns. We sang Christmas carols and ate candies with nougat centres as white as snow. We drank hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.

Outside, the lights of the towns and villages flickered in the distance as the Polar Express raced northward.

Soon there were no more lights to be seen. We travelled through cold, dark forests, where lean wolves roamed and white-tailed rabbits hid from our train as it thundered through the quiet wilderness.

We climbed mountains so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon. But the Polar Express never slowed down. Faster and faster we ran along, rolling over peaks and through valleys like a car on a roller coaster.

The mountains turned into hills, the hills to snow-covered plains. We crossed a barren desert of ice — the Great Polar Ice Cap. Lights appeared in the distance. They looked like the light of a strange ocean liner sailing on a frozen sea.

‘There,’ said the conductor, ‘is the North Pole.’

‘We pressed through the crowd to the edge of a large, open circle. In front of us stood Santa’s sleigh’

The North Pole. It was a huge city standing alone at the top of the world, filled with factories where every Christmas toy was made. At first we saw no elves.

‘They are gathering at the centre of the city,’ the conductor told us. ‘That is where Santa will give the first gift of Christmas.’

‘Who receives the first gift?’ we all asked. The conductor answered, ‘He will choose one of you.’

‘Look,’ shouted one of the children, ‘the elves.’

Outside we saw hundreds of elves. As our train drew closer to the centre of the North Pole we slowed to a crawl, so crowded were the streets with Santa’s helpers. When the Polar Express could go no farther, we stopped and the conductor led us outside.

We pressed through the crowd to the edge of a large, open circle. In front of us stood Santa’s sleigh. The reindeer were excited. They pranced and paced, ringing the silver sleigh bells that hung from their harnesses. It was a magical sound, like nothing I’d ever heard.

Across the circle, the elves moved apart and Santa Claus appeared. The elves cheered wildly. He marched over to us and, pointing to me, said, ‘Let’s have this fellow here.’

He jumped up into his sleigh. The conductor handed me up. I sat on Santa’s knee and he asked, ‘Now what would you like for Christmas?’

I knew that I could have any gift I could imagine. But the thing I wanted most for Christmas was not inside Santa’s giant bag. What I wanted more than anything was one silver bell from Santa’s sleigh.

It was made into a 2004 film starring Tom Hanks, who played six parts using live-action motion capture animation

When I asked, Santa smiled. Then he gave me a hug and told an elf to cut a bell from a reindeer’s harness. The elf tossed it up to Santa. He stood, holding the bell high above him, and called out, ‘The first gift of Christmas!’

A clock struck midnight as the elves roared their approval. Santa handed the bell to me, and I put it in my pocket.

The conductor helped me down from the sleigh. Santa shouted out the reindeer’s names and cracked his whip. His team charged forward and climbed into the air.

Santa circled once above us, then disappeared into the cold, dark, polar sky.

As soon as we were back inside the Polar Express, the other children asked to see the bell. I reached into my pocket, but the only thing I felt was a hole. I had lost the silver bell from Santa Claus’s sleigh. ‘Let’s hurry outside and look for it,’ one of the children said. But the train gave a sudden lurch and started moving. We were on our way home.

It broke my heart to lose the bell. When the train reached my house, I sadly left the other children. I stood at my doorway and waved goodbye. The conductor said something from the moving train, but I couldn’t hear him.

‘What?’ I yelled out.

He cupped his hands around his mouth.

‘MERRY CHRISTMAS,’ he shouted. The Polar Express let out a loud blast from its whistle and sped away.

On Christmas morning my little sister Sarah and I opened our presents. When it looked as if everything had been unwrapped, Sarah found one last small box behind the tree. It had my name on it. Inside was the silver bell!

There was a note: ‘Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket.’ Signed ‘Mr C’.

I shook the bell. It made the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard. But my mother said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’

‘Yes,’ said my father, ‘it’s broken,’

When I’d shaken the bell my parents had not heard a sound.

At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg is published by Andersen Press at £6.99. Text and illustrations © Chris Van Allsbusrg 1985. 

To order a copy for £5.59 (20 per cent discount) visit or call 0844 571 0640. 

P&P is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery. Offer valid until December 17, 2018.

The Hobbit Master’s spellbinding letters from Santa

Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R Tolkien 

The Hobbit Master’s spellbinding letters from Santa: Tolkien described in words and pictures what was happening at the North Pole

For more than 20 years J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord Of The Rings, wrote a letter to his children in the days leading up to Christmas pretending to be the REAL Father Christmas, in which he described in words and pictures what was happening at the North Pole. 

He introduces characters such as his accident-prone assistant Polar Bear, who sometimes writes (misspelled) comments in the letters. Here are two :

Cliff House,

Near the North Pole 

Monday, December 20, 1926 


My dear boys,

I am more shaky than usual this year. The North Polar Bear’s fault! It was the biggest bang in the world, and the most monstrous firework there ever has been. It turned the North Pole BLACK and shook all the stars out of place, broke the moon into four — and the Man in it fell into my back garden. 

He ate quite a lot of my Christmas chocolates before he said he felt better and climbed back to mend it and get the stars tidy. Then I found out that the reindeer had broken loose.

They were running all over the country, breaking reins and ropes and tossing presents up in the air.

They were all packed up to start, you see — yes it only happened this morning: it was a sleighload of chocolate things, which I always send to England early. I hope yours are not badly damaged.

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But isn’t the North Polar Bear silly? And he isn’t a bit sorry! Of course he did it — you remember I had to move last year because of him? The tap for turning on the Rory Bory Aylis fireworks is still in the cellar of my old house. The North Polar Bear knew he must never, never touch it. I only let it off on special days like Christmas. He says he thought it was cut off since we moved.

Anyway, he was nosing round the ruins this morning soon after breakfast (he hides things to eat there) and turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go. You have never heard or seen anything like it. I have tried to draw a picture of it; but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can’t paint fizzing light can you?

I think the Polar Bear has spoilt the picture rather — of course he can’t draw with those great fat paws —

Rude! I can — and write without shaking.

by going and putting a bit of his own about me chasing the reindeer and him laughing. He did laugh, too. So did I when I saw him trying to draw reindeer, and inking his nice white paws.

Father Christmas had to hurry away and leave me to finish. He is old and gets worried when funny things happen. You would have laughed too! I think it is good of me laughing. It was a lovely firework. The reindeer will run quick to England this year. They are still frightened! . . .

I must go and help pack. I don’t know what Father Christmas would do without me. He always forgets what a lot of packing I do for him . . .

The Snow Man is addressing our envelopes this year. He is Father Christmas’s gardener — but we don’t get much but snowdrops and frost-ferns to grow here.

He always writes in white, just with his finger . . .

A merry Christmas to you from North Polar Bear

And love from Father Christmas to you all


Cliff House,

Near the North Pole

Thursday, December 21, 1933


My dears,

Another Christmas! and I almost thought at one time (in November) that there would not be one this year. There would be the 25th of December, of course, but nothing from your old great-great-etc. grandfather at the North Pole.

Goblins. The worst attack we have had for centuries. They have been fearfully wild and angry ever since we took all their stolen toys off them last year and dosed them with green smoke. You remember the Red Gnomes promised to clear all of them out. There was not one to be found in any hole or cave by New Year’s Day.

But I said they would crop up again — in a century or so. They have not waited so long! They must have gathered their nasty friends from mountains all over the world, and been busy all the summer while we were at our sleepiest. This time we had very little warning.

Soon after All Saints’ Day, Polar Bear got very restless. He now says he smelt nasty smells — but as usual he did not say anything: he says he did not want to trouble me. He really is a nice old thing, and this time he absolutely saved Christmas. He took to sleeping in the kitchen with his nose towards the cellar door, opening on the main stairway down into my big stores.

One night, just about Christopher’s birthday, I woke up suddenly. There was squeaking and spluttering in the room and a nasty smell — in my own best green and purple room that I had just had done up most beautifully.

I caught sight of a wicked little face at the window. Then I really was upset, for my window is high up above the cliff, and that meant there were bat-riding goblins about — which we haven’t seen since the goblin-war in 1453, that I told you about.

I was only just quite awake, when a terrific din began far downstairs — in the store-cellars. It would take too long to describe, so I have tried to draw a picture of what I saw when I got down — after treading on a goblin on the mat.

Only ther was more like 1,000 goblins than 15.

Tolkien even drew this illustration of Saint Nicholas

(But you could hardly expect me to draw 1,000). Polar Bear was squeezing, squashing, trampling, boxing and kicking goblins skyhigh, and roaring like a zoo, and the goblins were yelling like engine whistles. He was splendid.

Say no more — I enjoyed it immensely!

Well, it is a long story. The trouble lasted for over a fortnight, and it began to look as if I should never be able to get my sleigh out this year. The goblins had set part of the stores on fire and captured several gnomes, who sleep down there on guard, before Polar Bear and some more gnomes came in — and killed 100 before I arrived.

Even when we had put the fire out and cleared the cellars and house (I can’t think what they were doing in my room, unless they were trying to set fire to my bed) the trouble went on. The ground was black with goblins under the moon when we looked out, and they had broken up my stables and gone off with the reindeer.

I had to blow my golden trumpet (which I have not done for many years) to summon all my friends. There were several battles — every night they used to attack and set fire in the stores — before we got the upper hand, and I am afraid quite a lot of my dear elves got hurt.

Fortunately we have not lost much except my best string, (gold and silver) and packing papers and holly-boxes. I am very short of these: and I have been very short of messengers. Lots of my people are still away (I hope they will come back safe) chasing the goblins out of my land, those that are left alive.

They have rescued all my reindeer. We are quite happy and settled again now, and feel much safer. It really will be centuries before we get another goblin-trouble.

Thanks to Polar Bear and the gnomes, there can’t be very many left at all.

And Father Christmas. I wish I could draw or had time to try — you have no idea what the old man can doo! Litening and fierworks and thunder of guns!

Polar Bear certainly has been busy helping, and double help — but he has mixed up some of the girls’ things with the boys’ in his hurry. We hope we have got all sorted out — but if you hear of anyone getting a doll when they wanted an engine, you will know why.

Actually Polar Bear tells me I am wrong — we did lose a lot of railway stuff — goblins always go for that — and what we got back was damaged and will have to be repainted. It will be a busy summer next year.

Now, a merry Christmas to you all once again. I hope you will all have a very happy time; and will find that I have taken notice of your letters and sent you what you wanted.

I don’t think my pictures are very good this year — though I took quite a time over them (at least two minutes). Polar Bear says, ‘I don’t see that a lot of stars and pictures of goblins in your bedroom are so frightfully merry.’ Still I hope you won’t mind. It is rather good of Polar Bear kicking, really. 

Anyway I send lots of love.

Yours ever and annually

Father Nicholas Christmas

Extracted from Letters From Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien, published by Harper Collins at £12.99.

©The Tolkien Estate Limited 1976. To order a copy for £10.39 (20 per cent discount)

Visit or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on orders over £15. Spend £30 on books and get FREE premium delivery. Offer valid until December 17, 2018.

Christmas Cat Chaos  

Santa Paws, by Julia Donaldson

Former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson is one of Britain’s biggest selling authors and her books include The Gruffalo, Room On The Broom and Stick Man.

This short, funny Christmas poem reflects her love of cats. Julia Donaldson also penned The Gruffalo and Room On The Broom

I don’t know why they’re blaming me 

When all I did was climb a tree

And bat a shiny silver ball.

How could I know the tree would fall?

And when those silly lights went out

They didn’t have to scream and shout

And turf me out and shut the door.

Now no one loves me any more.

I’m in the kitchen by myself.

But wait! What’s on that high-up shelf?

A lovely turkey, big and fat!

How nice! They do still love their cat. 

Taken from Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, published by Macmillan, £5.99. ©Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt, 2004

Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

The Night Before Christmas, by Clement. C. Moore

Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem, originally entitled A Visit From St Nicholas, was first published on December 23, 1823, by a New York newspaper The Sentinel. 

’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

A Visit From St Nicholas has since become one of the best-known Christmas poems in the world, written by Clement Clarke Moore

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

And Mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of midday to objects below,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

‘Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away!

Dash away all!’

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.

His eyes, how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’ 


Inside tomorrow’s Daily Mail: Carols from the Wind in the Willows  

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