Pride in your home state is a wonderful feeling. It is particularly easy to feel this pride when you find out that the writer of the popular children’s books ‘Jumanji’ and ‘The Polar Express’ was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan.
That writer is of course Chris Van Allsburg. He was born in East Grand Rapids and raised in Michigan, in addition to attending school at the University of Michigan, where he studied at the College of Architecture and Design. He learned various skills such as sculpture, bronze casting, wood carving and resin molding. He moved on to the Rhode Island School of Design and received his master’s degree in sculpture.
Van Allsburg was motivated by his wife to begin illustrating children’s books. She saw potential in his sculptures to be a part of children’s books. His first book he wrote was titled ‘The Garden of Abdul Gasazi’ in 1979. He has written fifteen other books, including the aforementioned ‘The Polar Express’ and ‘Jumanji,’ for which he has received the Caldecott Medal. His illustrations have appeared on covers of an edition of C.S. Lewis’ novels from ‘The Chronicles of Narnia.’
One reason that his illustrations are so unique is that Van Allsburg draws the pictures from the height of a child. If we remember from when we were young, things always looked much bigger than they actually are, because of our heights as a child. Van Allsburg uses that perspective in his drawings.
His stories are unique in that they are not solely children’s books. He uses brutal irony in his stories, to explore the sides of human nature that are darker than most children’s books would show.
Three of Van Allsburg’s stories were made into films, which include ‘Jumanji,’ ‘The Polar Express,’ and ‘Zathura.” He currently lives in Rhode Island with his wife and two children.