The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
"Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" by Virginia Lee Burton (c1939, Houghton Mifflin Company)
How do we help someone close to us? Do we give them a hug, an encouraging word, a smile? What about giving them a job, a purpose in life? How do we help a friend? Do we tell them, “Oh, well, better luck next time;” do we give them a pat on the back and say, “It’s okay;” do we shrug our shoulders, and not say anything at all, hoping our friend won’t notice our lack of empathy? How do you help a friend?
What if that friend is told, “you are no longer wanted;” or, “you are too old to do your job;” or they are told that, “all things new are better, better than you” because new things are innovative, and technology always perseveres? How do you help a friend?
"Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" is one of the most beautifully illustrated children’s books ever published. The simple, colored pencil drawings mimic the simply wonderful text on each page, whether in a circular, angled, or even a long horizontal format spanning two pages. The drawings are light, keeping the white of each page coming through, to convey not only line, but texture: a gritty texture feeling of this 1930s working class hard luck story. It also mirrors that theme in the color palette used, yellows, light greens, and soft reds and blues. What we are left with is an engrossing story about what it means to feel needed in this world, and how just one small gesture by a stranger, a small boy, can overcome prejudice of any kind. We all have a place in this world, even older things, perhaps even old technology like a steam shovel named Mary Anne, and her friend named Mike, both whom still have so much to offer. Standing up for each other is worth reading about to children of all ages. Standing up for friendship in the face of trials is the most important kind of friendship for me. "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" tells us all how we are to behave in this world, to everyone. It is as relevant in this current time and climate of change, as ever it was in 1939. How do you want to be seen by the world? Do you have a friend who will stay with you through anything and everything this world says you are, even when the world is very much wrong?
I am of an age in which I now notice I am being looked at like this more and more, like I am now in the “classic” category, and perhaps only because of age, not necessarily by any noteworthy attributes I may or may not possess. The reason for picking “classics” for the 101 PB Challenge has been seen as picking “old” books which might not seem relevant to some. Well, this book is celebrating its birthday this year. It is 80. And that is old! But timelessness is a rarity in all things. Especially in steadfast friendship and love.
To say this title is a classic is an understatement. Parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are commenting on how nice it is to see this book on our list. They really enjoy re-reading it to a new generation of story lovers. I am privileged to be a Children’s Librarian; to encourage a joy of reading for everyone. Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne will remain part of our American heritage, as part of Popperville’s “new town hall,” and as part of our storytelling legacy. And they will be part of that legacy for a long time to come. 160th birthday anyone?
What is the 101 Picture Book Challenge?
The 101 Picture Book Challenge is for anyone at any age. Librarians hand picked the titles on the list which includes classics, new titles and everything in between.To get started, register online. You can track your progress online or if you prefer a paper log booklet, pick one up at your neighborhood Library. The books are organized into categories but you can read the books in any order and at your own pace. When you read all 101 titles, you earn a free picture book (while supplies last).
This is the latest in a series of blog posts exploring some of the things we love about these books.
Reading Beyond The 101 Picture Book List
Below, you'll find three more "classics" you're sure to enjoy.
Freight Train by Donald Crews
Brief text and illustrations trace the journey of a colorful train as it goes through tunnels, by cities, and over trestles.
Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack
A little duck finds adventure on the Yangtze River when he is too late to board his master's houseboat one evening.
Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde H. Swift
A little lighthouse on the Hudson River regains its pride when it finds out that it is still useful and has an important job to do.