The Little Engine that could by Watty Piper
Illus. by Dan Santat. Penguin Random House, 2020. ISBN:
(Ages: 3-7) A classic children's tale first published in 1930, The Little Engine that could shows the power of kindness and determination. This 90th anniversary edition has a heartfelt introduction by Dolly Parton and vibrant illustrations by Dan Santat, complete with wide open spaces, sunlit fields and blue skies. The text is completely unchanged from the original so is a little outdated (the train is still carrying jackknives and glass bottles of creamy milk for the boys and girls) but this simply adds to the magic and timelessness of the story as a whole.
For those unfamiliar with the story, a happy little train is taking toys and good things to eat to the little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. So when the red engine breaks down suddenly, the toys and dolls attempt to get passing engines to help them across the mountain. The shiny new passenger engine thinks itself far too superior to pull the likes of the little train, the strong freight engine thinks itself far too important and the dingy, rusty old engine is simply too tired to even try. 'I can not. I can not. I can not' he chugs as he rumbles off. But the little blue engine who comes by thinks of the desperate toys and dolls who need her help and of the good little boys and girls waiting for their toys and good food. 'I think. I can. I think I can. I think I can', she says as she tugs and pulls the train over the mountain. The toys are ecstatic and the little blue engine is proud of herself and her self-belief.
There is a reason this is a classic and it stands up amazingly to the test of time. Its simple message is still as relevant as it was 90 years ago: the world needs us to do our very best and being kind and understanding is just as important as ever. The story shows that the act of one humble being can have great effect on many, a message that we want to convey to all our young people who have the potential to change the world for the better. Themes: Trains, Determination, Self-belief.