By Michele Landsberg
October 12, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Little Engine That Could

C
type
  • Book
Genre

Call me a curmudgeon, but as a child I could never stomach the little engine that thought it could. Its publishers, reissuing Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could for its 60th birthday, claim that it has ”inspired millions of children around the world.” Inspired with loathing, maybe.

I seriously doubt that anyone, let alone a normal child, could respond with joy to the prissy, preachy narrative voice as it describes the virtuous little engine on its journey, loaded with jolly things for ”those good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain.”

The illustrations are reprints of the originals, done in the ghastly sprightly style of the ’30s, when American publishers were intent on offering only the most clean and wholesome images to American kiddies. There isn’t a human creature in this book. Stiff painted dolls, locomotives, idiot clowns — the thing is a virtual robotic hymn to the machine age, and all in Kool-Aid colors.

Of course when the kindly engine bravely volunteers to pull the over-loaded train up the mountain, that memorable refrain kicks in: ”I think I can — I think I can — I think?” Well, you know. It’s that refrain, so delectably in the rhythm of a clickety-clack train, that made this book a hit.

If you can’t get enough of that catchy phrase, the little engine is waiting at the track. Puff puff. Chug chug. C

The Little Engine That Could

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