Oh how wonderful this book is, in so many different ways. Written in the 40s, its illustrations hark back to an earlier era, when children were allowed to be children, and when the values we taught them were couched in terms that a child could understand. Instead of violence and video games.
Mike Mulligan and his faithful steam shovel Mary Ann have been "downsized," if you will, by the advent of gasoline-powered engines, and other "modern miracles" that have made poor, faithful Mary Ann obsolete overnight. In order to find work, Mike and Mary Ann travel over hill and dale until they come to the small town of Popperville. There, they find that the town mayor is taking bids to dig the basement for a brand-new skyscraper. Mike makes a bid, and is met with laughter. But instead of giving up...INSTEAD OF GIVING UP...he makes a deal. He and Mary Ann will dig the basement in one day. If they don't make it, they won't accept payment.
The valiant steamshovel and the equally valiant Mike set off to prove to the world that they are not obsolete, not worthless...just because they are old, just because they are now different, they still have value! And they dig, and they dig, and they dig. And soon they have attracted a large audience, all of whom are pulling for the team to win, even though it seems impossible.
In the end, Mike and Mary Ann have prevailed. They have dug the basement in one day! But just when they are being celebrated as heroes, a terrible problem arises. Mary Ann cannot get back out of the hole. What is to happen? Was it all for nothing?
The ingenious solution to the problem, and the sheer joy of the solution, warms my heart as much today as it ever did. This is a wonderful way of teaching children to persevere, to glory in their "otherness" and to grab life with both hands. It is a treasure, a classic becaue it deserves to be.