Book 1: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (published by Platt & Munk, 1930)
I remember my dad reading this to me almost every night as a child. I remember the sound of his voice as it changed with each character. Deep and resonating as the little red train chug-chug-chugged and puff-puff-puffed along the tracks in the beginning. Arrogant for the Shiny New Engine pulling its passenger cars. Grumpy for the Big Strong Engine pulling its load of big machines. Sleepy for the Rusty Old Engine. And, of course, cheerful for the Little Engine That Could.
I loved the pictures, too. They pulled me in...I was in the story. I was enthralled with the toys and I remember putting several of them in my letter to Santa. I wanted the baby elephant. I had to have the doll with the blue dress and yellow bow. And who could possibly resist the ABC book, the tractor, or the fire engine with the extension ladder. Don't even get me started on the illustration of the peppermint balls and lollipops. I mentioned to Santa those would make great stocking stuffers. I mean, no Christmas stocking is complete without candy...no matter what the age of its owner. It's a rule. Anyway, it was (still is) a magical story and I could forget all about my four year old troubles.
Most of all, I loved the happy, friendly little blue Little Engine That Could. She was so nice to everyone. Not rude, or grouchy, or indifferent...all of which bothered me. I didn't like that the other trains wouldn't help the little red broken down train and always asked WHY they were so mean to it, and my dad would try his best to explain. Of course, what I didn't understand then was that if they didn't there wouldn't have been a story. But, what that red train went through always stuck with me and I think even at the young age four I made a decision to do my best not to treat people that way...no matter how they treated me.
The Little Engine had a strength in her even she was unaware of in the beginning. She didn't know if she could make it up the hill and into town. But, she was willing to give it a shot, to try despite an obstacle. Maybe she could overcome it, maybe she couldn't. At least she'd know. "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." Those are words I've referred back to anytime life decided to throw a hill in my way. No one has a crystal ball to see an outcome. If we did, there would be no adventure and or stories to tell. It is cheerfully attempting the hill, win or lose, that is important.
"I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could." Powerful words.
Historical Note: Watty Piper is the pseudonym for Mabel Caroline Bragg (1870-1945) who was a teacher and writer. The origin of the story is unknown as several similar stories existed before Piper's version. In Bragg's original version (The Little Pony Engine, 1916) the setting was Christmas. But, when Platt & Munk republished in its current incarnation, they dropped the holiday element. 2010 marks the 80th anniversary of this timeless classic. (Source: Schaefer, Pat. "Little Engine That Could." The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Credo Reference. Web. 30 August 2010.)