Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express has a new and worthwhile destination this holiday season. The 1986 Caldecott Medal winner will land in the hands of thousands of children thanks to a social media-based initiative launched by HMH Children’s Book Group in partnership with the nonprofit literacy organization First Book. For every new “Like” on the publisher’s Polar Express-themed Facebook page from now until December 25, a book will be donated to a child in need. HMH has committed to donating up to 25,000 new copies of the holiday classic, which will be distributed by First Book to children across the country.
This first-time initiative for the publisher was generated from within HMH, says Karen Walsh, director of publicity for HMH Children’s Book Group. “The idea came about after an in-house discussion about The Polar Express and its role as a beloved holiday story,” she says. “We were updating our annual online Polar Express Countdown to Christmas calendar, which offers a holiday activity for every day from December 1st to the 25th, and talking about ways to share that material through Facebook. The idea of adding a charitable aspect just kind of naturally came up, and we immediately thought of First Book.”
Currently holding the top slot on PW’s picture book bestsellers list, The Polar Express has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. Betsy Groban, senior v-p and publisher of HMH Children’s Book Group, believes the title is an ideal choice for this book donation initiative. “Ever since it first burst on the scene over 25 years ago, The Polar Express has dazzled readers with its magnificent artwork, powerful storytelling, and heartwarming holiday message,” she says. “This year, we are thrilled that our Polar Express campaign with First Book has enabled us to put books into the hands of young readers. It's the perfect holiday campaign beginning with the perfect holiday book.”
Founded in 1992, Washington, D.C.-based First Book has distributed more than 100 million books to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada. “HMH has stepped up to brighten the holidays for a lot of kids in need,” says Kyle Zimmer, president of First Book. “Every one of those copies of The Polar Express will go to children in First Book’s national network. It often shocks people to learn how scarce books are for kids in need. In some of the nation’s lowest-income neighborhoods there’s an average of a single book for every 300 children. The gift of new books really does have the power to change lives, and we owe an enormous debt to the generosity of publishers like HMH that make our work possible.”