Update: This post has been updated for Christmas 2020 availability.
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
I’ll start with one of the all-time classics, rated time and time again as one of the best children’s picture storybooks and described by Read It Daddy as “Utterly perfect Christmas tale. One of the most atmospheric and perfectly paced Christmas stories ever written for children”. I could almost stop now.
“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe.”
Gorgeous evocative colour pastel pictures combine with Chris Van Allsburg’s gentle but vivid prose to create a story that captures the imagination and which adults will love to read and children will love to hear, again and again.
It tells the story of a little boy who refuses to stop believing in Father Christmas, despite how much his friends tease him. On Christmas Eve, a magical steam train shows up and whisks the boy and his disbelieving friends off to the North Pole to meet the man himself. While there he is asked to pick a present and chooses a bell. On the journey home he loses the bell only to find it amongst the presents from Santa on Christmas morning with the message that only those who believe in him will be able to hear it.
Particularly appealing to train nerds is that the story was inspired by the Pere Marquette 1225, a 2-8-4 steam locomotive, which Chris Van Allsburg played on as a child.
Note: The book raises the subject that Santa might not actually be real and as such parents of younger children might want to wait until they are older before reading it with them. For older kids and adults however, it’s pure delight.
- Title: The Polar Express
- Author: Chris Van Allsburg
- Illustrator: Chris Van Allsburg
- ISBN: 1783443332
- Ages: Five and up
Peter’s Railway Christmas Steam by Christopher G. C. Vine
A lovingly illustrated tale of how Peter and his grandfather save Christmas by solving engineering problems to get a miniature railway train running.
Ideal for young readers who have grown out of ‘baby’ train books but are fascinated by trains and want to know how they work, this gentle but fun story educates as it entertains.
“All the outside wiring would be low voltage and not dangerous at all.
It wouldn’t do to give Santa an electric shock!”
- Title: Peter’s Railway Christmas Steam
- Author: Christopher G. C. Vine
- Illustrator: John Wardle
- ISBN: 0955335957
- Ages: 6 upwards
Chugga Chugga Choo-Choo Big Book
While not specifically a Christmas themed story, this rhyming picture book will still be hugely popular on Christmas morning with train-loving pre-school kids.
Big and bold illustrations team up perfectly with easy following simple language telling the story of a toy train journey from loading cargo in the morning, travelling across the country, around mountains and through tunnels until its bedtime in the roundhouse.
“Sun’s up! Morning’s here. Up and at ’em, engineer. Chugga-chugga choo-choo, whistle blowing,
- Title: Chugga Chugga Choo-Choo Big Book
- Author:Kevin Lewis
- Illustrator: Daniel Kirk
- Ages: Pre-School
Thomas & Friends The 12 Engines of Christmas (Thomas the Tank Engine)
“On the third day of Christmas, what did Henry see?
Three carol singers,
Two smiling snowmen
And a big green Christmas tree!”
As the title says, this board book features a different engine for each day, with Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Emily, Rosie, Spencer, Hiro, Diesel and Harold making an appearance and getting a turn so it’s sure to please no matter which engine is your child’s favourite.
- Title: Thomas & Friends The 12 Engines of Christmas (Thomas the Tank Engine)
- Author: n/a
- Illustrator: n/a
- Ages: Pre-School
If your children like trains, take a look at these best Christmas train sets.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.