Tag Archives: Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel

Four FAVORITE BOOKS FROM MY SON’S CHILDHOOD on Friday

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Four FAVORITE BOOKS FROM MY SON’S CHILDHOOD on Friday
Last Sunday, we took my oldest, my son, off for his first year of college.  He had a week of orientation and then will start classes this Monday.  I am sure that I feel what all parents feel at this grand juncture of life: excited for his new opportunities, nervous for his academic challenges, hopeful that he meets new friends, anxious about his new situations and encounters, but most of all, reminiscent of the past 17 years that he was home with me.  I have been doing a deep clean of his room so it will be ready when he returns home for visits . . . or to convert into a private reading room for me . . . and as I have been looking at the memories, I am reminded of books that he loved as a young child. 

So, in honor of my college freshman, here are four of his favorite stories from childhood.

Thomas the Tank Engine by the Rev. W. Awdry
There must be very few young boys who didn’t go through the “Thomas” phase at one point in their childhood.  My son loved everything Thomas and, in true fashion of all his interests, went through a Thomas only phase.  He wore Thomas t-shirts, played with Thomas toys, watched Thomas videos, and of course, read Thomas stories.  We had picture books and learn-to-read books and sight word books and the complete collection of all the Thomas stories.

As a former English teacher, I love the personification of the Thomas trains at conveying educational messages, teaching about friendships, showing how to learn from mistakes; all done completely in a non-preachy manner through the characters of the train engines. They are trains!!  How fun is that!  Especially for a boy, the stories blended good messages with fun actions and adventures.  I loved how my son would act out the stories we read with his own trains and then create new stories and adventures through his own imagination.  Perhaps in some small way, that inspired him to be the writer he is today.

I admit that sometimes I get a little misty-eyed as I walk past the train table at Barnes and Noble or see the collection of Thomas books on the shelf.  I might also have kept all the Thomas trains and books in the attic in the hopes that some future grandchild might enjoy them with me.

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
I loved Mike Mulligan from my own childhood and was delighted to share the story with my children.  The story focuses on two of the most important parts of a young boy’s life – trucks and digging in the dirt.  Although my son loved trains, there is something mesmerizing about trucks working.  We would be driving down the road and spot a construction site; my son loved to seek out the modern day equivalent to Mary Anne.  And what young boy wouldn’t enjoy the part where the dirt was flying all around and covering everything and everyone.

Again, the story creates human emotions and feelings with the steam shovel, and it teaches lessons about responsibility and loyalty, the importance of being a good friend, and the power and fault of preconceived notions.  It also is a great book to read aloud; there is lots of emotion and strength in the “Bing! Bang! Crash! Slam!”  Another interesting aspect of the story is the illustrations.  The unsophisticated crayon-like drawings help to convey a simpler time and place.  I always felt that picture of Mary Anne, that is the steam shovel, eating the dirt was a little terrifying, but my son loved it!

The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble
What child doesn’t love the silliness of a boa constrictor going on a field trip!  The storytelling style really shows how each step in the process becomes both a cause and effect and one builds upon another.   The stream of consciousness storytelling is so representative of a child telling a story; as any parent, I have often been the listener to a story in which each part seems more and more unrelated as I wonder where the story will end up.  My children and I used to play games to show how one thought or idea might lead to another.  As my son got older and became a real movie buff, we would do the same to link two actors based on the films they had been in.  You know, like George Clooney to Jeremy Renner:  George Clooney was in Ocean’s Eleven with Matt Damon, Matt Damon was in The Talented Mr. Ripley with Jude Law, Jude Law was in Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr., and Robert Downey, Jr. was in The Avengers with Jeremy Renner.

The other wonderful aspect of this story is the fantastic illustrations by Steven Kellogg.  The detail and humor of the pictures gives so much more depth to the story itself.  We enjoyed embellishing on the story by adding in details and extensions based on the illustrations.  It also opened up more favorite stories that were also illustrated by Steven Kellogg.  And of course, any grade school field trip description had to include the disappointing fact that no boa constrictor got loose.

The Daylight Limited by Lin Oliver
This is a wonderful story about Tuck and Billie Holden and their grand adventure across the country on their way to the New York World’s Fair.  The Daylight Limited was the first of three parts to the story, followed by The President Express and The Torpedo Run.  Each of the books focused on a different train as it took them on their adventure.  The stories were full of adventure and humor, and I loved the bond between the two siblings.

What made the stories come alive though was that the books came with a die-cast battery powered engine that fit on the Thomas tracks and a tape with the story read-aloud by LeVar Burton.  Although the reading level was more advanced than my son’s at the time, he really learned how to follow along with the story by listening to the tape.  Each tape also included famous railway songs, like I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Wabash Cannonball, and Rock Island Line.  My son enjoyed listening to and learning the new songs.  The author wrote two additional stand-alone stories that also became favorites and included a train and a tape.

And now you have my memories.  I am curious to see if my son’s are the same as mine; maybe he’ll comment?  How about you?  Do your favorite books from your child’s early years match their memories?

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Four FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK Librarians

mike's house Library Lion all of a kind family library lil

I have always felt that truly good librarians are magic makers: they inspire readers to follow their passions and ignite new ones by introducing book selections that might not have been considered.  I love to check out books from the library and have the librarian give his or her thoughts or ask for my opinions.  As helpful and encouraging as librarians are to adults, I think their true spark comes from their interaction with children. 

The librarian at my children’s New Hampshire elementary school and the Amherst town librarian took on the role of an adult confidant and mentor to my own children.  She (in both cases) assumed the role of an adult who wasn’t there to evaluate or to reprimand (usually), but someone who the children could share their thoughts, questions, and inspiration about the books they read.  As much as I enjoyed teaching, I often admired and envied the role of a librarian: to be able to read and share books and authors without worrying about grades or projects or state requirements.

Now I know that good librarians do so much more than that!  They seem to possess a unique gift to recognize what type of book a child wants or needs and be able to find a suitable title to fit just that purpose.  Although a librarian’s work with technology has changed over the years – from microfiches and film strips to ebooks and websearches – I’d like to think that their passion lies truly with the books themselves.

Here are four of my favorite librarians from children’s literature.

Miss Merriweather from Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
I have to admit that this is one of my all-time favorite children’s picture books and I have to thank a librarian for sharing it with me and my children – thanks, Miss Jackie!  One day, a lion wandered into the library and sat down for a snooze in the children’s section.  As he wasn’t breaking any rules, he was allowed to stay.  He became a soft pillow during story-time, helped dust the shelves with his tail, and licked the overdue notice envelopes.  When something happens that requires the lion to break the rules, he must leave the library.

This is a beautiful story about rules and when to break them.  And more importantly, it is about the friendship between a librarian and a four-legged patron.

Lil in Library Lil by Suzanne Williams
Every since she was a child, Lil loved books and loved the library. One time she even checked out the entire set of encyclopedias and read them from cover to cover; so of course, she grows up to be a librarian.  Unfortunately, the people of Chesterville were not avid readers.  When a storm knocks out all the power in town and the television service is cut off, Lil jumps at the opportunity, pulls out the bookmobile, and inspires the town to read.  Life in Chesterville is good until Bust-‘em-up Bill and his motorcycle game come to town; they discover that they are unable to watch their favorite shows on Tuesday night because there are no televisions in town and they seek out the culprit behind this heinous act.  Lil stands firm and converts them all to be book lovers.

This very fun book is illustrated by the immensely talented Steven Kellogg.  The vivid and detailed illustrations just add to the humor and depth of the story.  Younger readers can appreciate the passion for reading that Lil inspired.  My favorite part is when the motorcycle gang members get in a fight over who will check out The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

The Library Lady in All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
This is a delightful book about five sisters who live in New York City with their parents at the turn-of-the-century.  This chapter book series was one of my favorites as a child and tells an engaging story while still teaching the reader about the city, the time period, and the customs and traditions of a Jewish family.

One chapter has the girls going on their weekly visit to the library, but Sarah can’t find her book.  When they inform the library lady, her kindness and generosity warms the readers’ hearts.  A mistake can be made by anyone and her compassion and problem-solving truly make her an exemplary librarian.  Although her part in the whole story is small, her impact and influence on the lives of these young girls is memorable.

Mrs. Mullan in Mike’s House by Julia L. Sauer
This enchanting picture book was first published in the 1950’s and truly captures the humanity of the time.  Four-year-old Robert gets lost on his way to Picture Book Hour at the Public Library.  He really just gets a bit confused and a young policeman rescues him.  Unfortunately, Robert’s explanation that he was going to Mike’s House is unclear to the officer; some hilarity and charm ensue as he realizes that Mike’s House is where the book Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel lives.

My admiration of librarian Mrs. Mullan is how she able to enchant a young child that books can be personified; that a reader can have such an emotional attachment and a vested interest in the characters and story that the book can have its own personality.  A book or story can have feelings, create emotional ties with others, and live in its own house!  I remember this book as a child and was thrilled to discover a very old, worn, and well-loved copy at our library’s rummage sale.  A treasure find for me!

So in honor of all the wonderful librarians in your lives, what literary librarians do you admire?