Chris Van Allsburg, University alum and acclaimed creator of
children’s books, straddles the worlds of writing,
illustrating and film. Van Allsburg is the author and illustrator
of unusual children’s tales such as “Jumanji,”
“The Garden of Abdul Gazazi” and “Two Bad
Ants.” After the success of “Jumanji” at the box
office, Van Allsburg saw his work return to the silver screen with
the premiere of “The Polar Express” in his hometown of
Grand Rapids last week. The event was both entertainment for local
kids and an opportunity to raise money for a local hospital
treating terminally ill children.

Before the premiere on Nov. 5, Van Allsburg had a moment to
recollect on his favorite memories at the University with The
Michigan Daily. Though “sitting lakeside in front of
Bursley” with his wife to-be, Lisa, was an obvious highlight,
Van Allsburg also discussed his formative experiences studying art
and honing his drawing techniques.

He advises University students who have aspirations as either
writers or illustrators to “keep writing and not have their
spirits dampened by minor setbacks.” Van Allsburg uses his
own life story to prove this point. He initially studied sculpting
at the Rhode Island School of Design, but indulged his taste in are
and, “drew pictures in (his) spare time.” With some
prodding from his wife and a fortuitous meeting with a publisher,
Van Allsburg chose to devote his considerable talents to
children’s books. Two stories later, Van Allsburg won the
Caldecott Medal for his wildly innovative “Jumanji.” He
also won the Caldecott Medal for “The Polar Express”
and the Caldecott Honor for “The Garden Of Abdul

The premiere was attended by more than 1,400 people, about half
of them children younger than 12. Before the movie, Van Allsburg
took the time to have a question and answer session with these
kids, who loved his work in spite of its challenging writing. On
his writing style, Van Allsburg said, “I don’t know.
That’s just poetry, isn’t it? Sometimes when
you’re working on something and you’re an artist; it
just seems like work, you know. It’s not much different than
pulling weeds out of a garden. Other times when you’re making
art, you forget you’re working and it just happens. Athletes
call it ‘being in the zone,’ I guess … sometimes
words just come out like that, sometimes you just get

Throughout the session Van Allsburg showed his respect of the
children’s questions and treated them like responsible
adults. He even joked with the children about his elementary school
days, “I was a perfect student. There was nothing wrong with

He encouraged the kids in his audience to find something they
are passionate about and to keep doing it to get better. He told
the children to believe in the spirit of Christmas, “I know
there is a Polar Express because I rode it, but I only rode it
once, and I’m pretty sure that’s the only time you get
to do it. You have be 8, 9, maybe 7 years old. It might come to
your house. It’s there and it might take you north. But if
you can’t get on the train, the next best thing would be
coming and watching it on the big screen.”

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