Chris Van Allsburg

220px-Chris_van_Allsburg_-_Northborough_MA_12-2011Since it is December and during the holidays (Merry Christmas to all you Christians out there today!), I decided to spotlight an author that has become famous for his children’s book, The Polar Express. This piece of literature came out in 1985 and is now considered a classic Christmas story. I remember when I was a child, we watched the book being told on a projector just before our Christmas break. I loved it! And I was pleased to see that they’re still doing it at my son’s elementary school this year.

Chris Van Allsburg (born June 18, 1949) is an American illustrator and writer of children’s books. He has won two Caldecott Medals for U.S. picture book illustration, for Jumanji (1981) and The Polar Express (1985), both of which he also wrote; both were later adapted as successful motion pictures. My personal opinion is that the books are better, but most voracious readers feel that way when comparing the movie to the book. However, it is quuite the fete to have not just one, but two books written by an author to be produced as movies!

Allsburg was also a Caldecott runner-up in 1980 for The Garden of Abdul Gasazi. For his contribution as a children’s illustrator he was 1986 U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition for creators of children’s books. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan in April 2012.

Chris was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was the second child of Richard and Doris Christianen Van Allsburg. When Chris was born, his family lived in an old farm house. Later, they moved to a new house at the edge of Grand Rapids when Chris was three years old. His new house was located close enough to his elementary school that he could walk there for class. His family later moved again to East Grand Rapids. He attended middle school and high school at East Grand Rapids. Van Allsburg attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan, which at that time included the art school. He majored in sculpture, learning bronze casting, wood carving, resin molding, and other techniques. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and continued his education at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating with a master’s degree in sculpture in 1975. After graduation, Van Allsburg set up a sculpture studio.

While Van Allsburg focused on sculpture, he struggled for time in the studio and began to sketch his ideas at home. His wife thought that his drawings of his ideas would make good illustrations for children’s books. After his wife showed his pictures to a children’s book editor, he wrote his first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, in 1979.

Chris Van Allsburg lives in Providence, Rhode Island with Lisa Van Allsburg, his wife of 30 years. They have two daughters, Sophia and Anna. Van Allsburg converted to Judaism, his spouse’s faith. I think his story is one of pure inspiration! Even though he intended to start out his career as a sculptor, he made it as a children’s writer/illustrator instead. Does that mean he gave up on his dream? Not at all! He now has the opportunity to use his success as an author to do well as a sculptor.