Module 2: The Little Engine That Could


Book Summary

The Little Engine That Could was written by Watty Piper in 1930 and has been a beloved children’s book since then. Often considered a classic, The Little Engine That Could is about a small train that is hauling toys and food over the mountain to the children on the other side when her engine goes out. The train and the toys are distraught over the idea that the children might wake-up and have no food to eat or toys to play with. After asking several passing trains for help they finally find salvation in a kind, small blue engine that is passing by. Despite being small, the little blue train does her best to help the toys and the stranded train bring happiness to the children.

APA Reference of Book:

Piper, W. (1961). The little engine that could. New York, NY : Platt & Munk.


This book reminded me a lot of the types of stories I used to read with my mom before bed. This story shows children the power of optimism, perseverance, how important it is to be kind, and the negative impact of pride. While the story can be repetitive, especially if you find yourself with a child who loves to re-read stories, it is worth the read. Personally, I like that it is simple and a little repetitive. The repetition can come in handy  if you are reading it to a group of children because it gives them ample opportunity to say key phrases along with the reader. Also, while the illustrations are reminiscent of the time when the book was written, I still think that they still look wonderful. The book is very colorful and sure to capture the reader’s attention.

Professional Review:

“Long (I Dream of Trains ) pays respectful homage to George and Doris Hauman’s compositions in his visual interpretation of the classic tale of determination and perseverance, first published in 1930. Yet the artist adds a lushness to the spreads and injects even more personality into the characters; he uses the larger format to play up the vistas of mountain and valley that pose such a challenge to the engines on this route, and gives “the funniest little toy clown you ever saw” a starring role. A cheerful purple elephant whose eyes droop as one engine after another declines to pull their load, a pair of pull-toys containing curious giraffes (their necks bow in disappointment) and a cuddly, expressive stuffed monkey are among the supporting cast. The spacious spreads also allow for a more dramatic flow of the text (the original often broke a paragraph in the middle of a climactic moment). Long adorns the different engines with wry human characteristics. The cowcatcher of the haughty Shiny New Engine resembles teeth exposed by a snarl, while the Rusty Old Engine (who says, “I can not. I can not”) sports a smokestack in the shape of a dilapidated top hat, a mop of gray hair and a monocle. The pièce de résistance is the brave Little Blue Engine that could, with bright blue eyes in place of windows, a wide smile and—while chugging up that daunting mountain—a pink tongue protruding from her mouth. Both faithful fans and newcomers will enjoy this triumphant ride and eagerly climb aboard for repeat excursions.”

-Publishers Weekly

(2005, August 22,).  [Review of the book The little engine that could, by W. Piper].  Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from:

Library Uses:

Hold a design a train contest. I would let the children design and build their own train using a variety of materials and then place the trains around the library for patrons to vote on.


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