Last week, Chris Van Allsburg came to the Barnes and Noble on the Upper East Side, answered questions and signed books for the parents and children in attendance.
His work was projected up on a large screen while one of the staff members read. When she got to the line, "...the first gift of Christmas," a two-year-old girl stood up on her chair and yelled, "Yayyyy, Christmas!"--which had the entire room laughing.
You know how I mentioned that, as an author, you're also a character during your readings?
One child asked how he knew what the trains in the story should look like, and he replied (naturally, I'm paraphrasing from what I remember; I didn't have a recording device), "Well, they were drawn from memory. The train came for me when I was eight. But after that, I went looking for a toy train to use as a model, one that looked like the real train, and drew from that, only made it look much, much bigger."
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about lying to children--if my (future, theoretical) kids end up celebrating these holidays, I'm going to have some difficulty saying, "Oh yes, and there's a man who comes down the chimney/a very large rabbit that comes with a basket/a fairy that takes teeth and leaves money"--but all of the children and parents thoroughly enjoyed the event.
I couldn't help but ask if he had an object, like the bell in his story--something that, for him, meant childhood.
"Well, I have the bell, of course," he said, his tone a little nudge-nudge for the adults--the kids weren't really listening at that point, since B&N had just announced that there was a "special treat"--which turned out to be bells on specially printed ribbons--if the children behaved themselves a little longer.
"It's so hard to keep things after all these moves," he said, "But I do have a lion puppet, Leo, from when I was a kid. It says 'Leo' on his tag. And he goes on the top of my Christmas tree every year."
The next book down the line will be about the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel--who, it turns out, was a woman in her sixties who used to teach at a charm school.
Here's a picture snapped from my phone. And, yes, he's wearing a red vest and green tie: