The classic children’s book, The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper, has been a favorite of mine through the years. This book was first published in 1930 and has been a friend to generations of children. So many times was our family copy read to our 6 children that it is literally falling apart. It still sits proudly on the bookcase wearing its tattered pages as a badge of honor.
Not only have my own children learned the lessons of hard work and optimism from the Little Blue Engine, my students have, too. Sometimes, I read it at the beginning of the year as a way to set the tone for our classroom: we all can try, and when we try, we can learn and get better. Sometimes, I read it on “Read Across America” Day. I like to pair it with another family favorite, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward. This classic, published in 1939, also teaches children about being kind and helpful and hardworking. Even my fifth-grade students sat at my feet and listened to some of “my favorites”-as I explained to them.
Since The Little Engine That Could is so well-known, I doubt I have to remind you of the famous phrase that the Little Blue Engine kept repeating as he worked and worked and worked to get up the mountain and over to the “good little boys and girls” who needed the “good things to eat” and “toys to play with.” I think I can! I think I can! I think I can! the unlikely hero repeated.
Well, on one of those early and beautiful days this spring, when the breeze begs you to open the car windows as you putt along, my window was indeed wound down. I was driving up Pine Street, a steep hill in our neighborhood. A man on a bicycle caught my eye. Standing up, his foot bore down on the pedal with his full body weight. Even so, the bike struggled to maintain forward progress. Adding to his load was a bright yellow, two-wheeled child carrier that trailed along behind the bike. This dad, huffing and puffing, was giving his little son, a boy of about 3 or 4 years old, an early spring ride! The youngster’s tow head, happy smile on his face, peeked over the top of the carrier, and then, to my great surprise, a merry sing-songy voice floated on the breeze, “Think I can! Think I can! Think I can…”
A laugh bubbled out of my mouth. Apparently, another generation of children is learning the value of hard work and optimism!