This book was in my house more than it was in the library I constantly borrowed it from. A phenomenal original story, gorgeous graphics and loveable characters. A MUST for any family with big imaginations
I tend to bring a lot of picture books into my home. My husband doesn't mind, but neither does he show an inordinate amount of interest in them. Enter "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel". Suddenly my husband was elated by the appearance of this book. "This was the only book we had in my Kindergarten class!", quoth he. After he'd picked through it once more, I had my chance to glance through the story. Admittedly, I did not know of the adventures of Mike Mulligan or trusty Mary Ann until rather late in life. But looking at my hubby's gleeful expression on seeing it again, I know that this is one of those classics that sits in the back of the memory for years and years and years. Mike Mulligan (Irish, according to the book flap) runs a delightful steam shovel named Mary Ann. The opening spread shows Mike waving at the viewer, while meticulous arrows indicate every lever, cog, and line in Mary Ann's hull. In a rather John Henryish turn of events, Mary Ann is eventually determined to be obsolete in the face of the fancier gasoline, electric and Diesel shovels. Mike refuses to give up his precious steam shovel, however, and a race to prove that Mary Ann can dig as much in a day as a hundred men can dig in a week explodes in a riveting (ho ho) finish. Books about trucks, construction equipment, and planes is commonplace today. But such modern day classics as "I Stink" owe a great debt to the path that "Mike Mulligan" paved. Here we have a beautifully illustrated (in color at that!) story about two of the best friends in the world. Those kids interested in the technical aspects of steam shovels will be in heaven. And those that just like a rip-roaring yarn about a race against the clock will have a ball as well. Interestingly, author/illustrator Virginia Lee Burton chooses not to close up on Mike Mulligan's face at any point. When we do see him, he's usually viewed at a distance, waving, weeping, and smoking to his heart's content. It's Mary Ann that get the full frontal treatment, and she's a joy. Who could have thought a steam shovel to be so eloquent and emotional? That's the joy of this story and the genius of Virginia Lee Burton's masterwork.
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.