Chris Van Allsburg (born June 18, 1949) is an American children's author and illustrator. He wrote and illustrated the 1985 book, The Polar Express and, along with Tom Hanks and Jack Rapke, was an executive producer on the 2004 film adaptation.
Some of his other books include The Widow's Broom, Jumanju and Zathura, the latter two of which were also adapted into films.
Van Allsburg was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan as the second child to Richard and Doris Christianen Van Allsburg. At the time, his family lived in an old farm house, but they moved to a new house in the outskirts of Grand Rapids when Chris was three years old. The new house was so close to his elementary school that he could walk there for class. His family later moved again to East Grand Rapids where he attended middle and high school.
After school, he attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan, which included an art school at the time. He initially studied law, but found that the art classes he took were more interesting, so he majored in sculpture. He graduated in 1972 before moving to Providence, Rhode Island to attend the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated with a master's degree in sculpture in 1975. While there, he married Lisa in 1974. After graduation, Van Allsburg set up a sculpture studio.
Van Allsburg found himself struggling for time in the studio and decided to sketch his ideas at home. His wife, Lisa, who used picture books in her elementary school art classes, thought his sketches would make good illustrations for children's books and, with encouragement from illustrator David Macaulay, who was a friend of Lisa, showed them to children's book editors. One of them, Walter Lorraine at Houghton Mifflin, thought he would be good at writing children's books. After that, Van Allsburg wrote his fist book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, in 1979.
Chris Van Allsburg currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island with his wife, Lisa Van Allsburg. They have two daughters, Sophia and Anna. Van Allsburg converted to Judaism, his spouse's faith.
Inspirations for the book and film
Van Allsburg made a couple of references related to himself in the book, which were carried over into the film along with other Van Allsburg-related references.
The locomotive in the book is based on Pere Marquette 1225, a N1-class steam locomotive which Van Allsburg used to play on as a child while attending football games at Michigan State University, where it was put on display at the time. He was also inspired by the locomotive's number, 1225, which is the date of Christmas, 12/25. For the film, drawings of #1225 were used to create the CGI model of the train and most of its sounds were recorded from #1225.
Hero Boy's house is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is the town Van Allsburg grew up in and where the film's premiere took place. Also, while Hero Boy's name was never revealed in neither the book nor the film, a book containing information about the film said that his name was Chris, named after Chris Van Allsburg.
In the beginning of the film, Hero Boy looks at a picture of himself sitting on a store Santa's lap and ripping off his beard. The name of the store on the photo is Herpolsheimer's, an old department store in Grand Rapids. The train later passes by the store. A pennant of the University of Michigan, the university Van Allsburg attended, also appears in Hero Boy's room on the wall behind his bed.
List of works by Chris Van Allsburg
- The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979)
- Jumanji (1981)
- Ben's Dream (1982)
- The Wreck of the Zephyr (1983)
- The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984)
- The Polar Express (1985)
- The Stranger (1986)
- The Z was Zapped (1987)
- Two Bad Ants (1988)
- Swan Lake (1989)
- Just a Dream (1990)
- The Wretched Stone (1991)
- The Widow's Broom (1992)
- The Sweetest Fig (1993)
- The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1994. A portfolio version)
- Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)
- A City in Winter (1996)
- The Veil of Snows (1997)
- Zathura (2002)
- Probuditi! (2006)
- Queen of the Falls (2011)
- The Chronicles of Harris Burdick (2011)
- The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie (2014)
- The Little Mermaid (1989, visual development artist)
- Jumanji (1995, story writer and based on book)
- How to Deal (2003, executive producer)
- The Polar Express (2004, executive producer)
- Zathura (2005, based on book)
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017, based on book and screen story of the 1995 film)
- Jumanji: The Next Level (2019, based on book)
- Chris Van Allsburg was born the same year as Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu.
- Some of the actors who played roles in The Polar Express have also been in other films based on Chris Van Allsburg's books: