Mr. Van Allsburg

When I nannyed, I used to read Polar Express to the boys, curled up on the couch. I would make homemade hot chocolate, and I remember showing them how to sprinkle cinnamon over the top before we settled in to read. The story was cute, but what I remember most were the illustrations – the rich colors, the shapes of the snow, the train through the countryside.

Today at the bookshop, we had Chris Van Allsburg himself. He signed copy after copy of Polar Express, but other titles, too: Jumanji, The Sweetest Fig, The Wreck of the Zephyr. People lined up out the door, down the sidewalk. It was a good day at the little bookshop! All of us were there – from the owners and the manager to every last part-time employee – all a-buzz. We even wore necklaces with gigantic colored bells that jingled when we moved. It was like we were Polar Express elves or something.


[We couldn’t believe it when large white flakes began to fall against the gray sky. And when the train came through, it was like a fairytale.]

There was a moment when I was ringing in a customer and the ancient register was whirring away, that I thought Oh my gosh, what if this thing freaks out? What’ll we do?! I’m pretty sure the register is from the 1940s (or pretty close), and I could’ve sworn I saw smoke. I wasn’t the only one eyeing it with a little trepidation.

It held out, though, and at the end of three hours of asking customers if they needed a book, ringing them in, running their credit cards, etc., I was finally able to meet Mr. Van Allsburg. He was quiet, reserved-seeming (but he had been signing books for three hours). He wore an argyle sweater and he had a nice, white beard. He shook my hand and smiled, writing To Catherine – Chris Van Allsburg, 2012.

It’s nice to see how an author does a book-signing; there are kind, soft-spoken, interesting-and-interested writers out there. When I left for the night, I went back and thanked him, shook his hand again. I gathered my things, put my coat on, and stepped out into the lightly falling snow.

What a privilege.


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