The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (Author), George Hauman (Illustrator), Doris Hauman (Illustrator)
Hardcover: 37 pages
Age Range: 3 – 7 years
Publisher: G P Putnam’s Sons; Complete original ed edition
The Little Engine That Could is an American fairytale (existing in the form of several illustrated children’s book and movies)that became widely known in the United States after publication in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children”.
The story’s signature phrases such as “I think I can” first occurred in print in a 1902 article in a Swedish journal. An early published version of the story, “Story of the Engine That Thought It Could”, appeared in the New-York Tribune on April 8, 1906, as part of a sermon by the Rev. Charles S. Wing.
Another version was published under the name “The Pony Engine” in the Kindergarten Review in 1910, written by Mary C. Jacobs. A different version with the same title appeared in a magazine for children in 1916 under the name of Mabel C. Bragg, a teacher, but she “took no credit for originating the story”.
The story first appeared in print with the title The Little Engine That Could in 1920, collected in Volume I of My Book House, a set of books sold in the U.S. by door-to-door salespersons. The Book House version began, “Once there was a Train-of-Cars; she was flying across the country with a load of Christmas toys for the children who lived on the other side of the mountain.” The story was labeled[clarification needed] “As told by Olive Beaupré Miller”; the first edition gave credit to Bragg, but subsequent editions did not as Miller subsequently concluded that “the story belonged to the realm of folk literature”. Miller was the founding editor and publisher of The Book House for Children, a company based in Chicago.
The best known incarnation of the story The Little Engine That Could was written by “Watty Piper”, a pen name of Arnold Munk, who was the owner of the publishing firm Platt & Munk. Arnold Munk was born in Hungary, and as a child, moved with his family to the United States, settling in Chicago. Later he moved to New York. Platt & Munk’s offices were at 200 Fifth Avenue until 1957 when Arnold Munk died. Arnold Munk used the name Watty Piper as both an author of children’s books and as the editor of many of the books that Platt & Munk published. He personally hired Lois Lenski to illustrate the book. This retelling of the tale The Pony Engine appeared in 1930, with a title page that stated: “Retold by Watty Piper from The Pony Engine by Mabel C. Bragg’s copyrighted by George H. Doran and Co.”
In 1954, Platt & Munk published another version of The Little Engine That Could, with slightly revised language and new, more colorful illustrations by George and Doris Hauman. Although there had been many previous editions of this classic story, “It was the work of George and Doris Hauman that earned The Little Engine the title of being worthy to sit on the same shelf as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” A 1976 rework featured art by Ruth Sanderson received a lot of attention at the time of its release, in part because the art reflected “the stereotypes of masculine strength and feminine weakness in vogue when it was written”.
The tale with its easy-to-grasp moral has become a classic children’s story and was adapted in January 1991 as a 30-minute animated film produced in Wales and co-financed in Wales and the United States. The film named the famous little engine Tillie and expanded the narrative into a larger story of self-discovery.
The story is incorporated into the 1977 special The Easter Bunny Is Comin’ to Town, in which the engine is named “Chuggs” and is commissioned by the Easter Bunny to deliver Easter candy.
In March 2011, the story was adapted as a 3-D film named The Little Engine That Could, produced by Universal Studios and featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alyson Stoner, and Corbin Bleu.