Friday, November 30, 2012

The Little Engine That Could

At the beginning of November's Picture Book Month, I posted several picture books that resonate with me. Now that the month is almost over, I'd like to write about one that leaves me, well, let's just say  underwhelmed. No, it's not The Giving Tree, a book that many parents either love or hate. While I don't care for that book's premise--a tree gives and gives of herself until nothing is left--it was never a book I read. No, my least favorite picture book is the much beloved The Little Engine That Could.

I know, I know. It's a classic and the illustrations, I agree, are charming. But I've never been a fan of its message. Oh, I guess I enjoyed the book as a kid--or was it the pictures of all that luscious candy?--but as an adult I find it way too didactic and its moral questionable. Yes, I realize that it's important to always try and that a positive mindset can get you over humps. But guess what? Sometimes you can give your all and still fail. As a child I practiced dance steps over and over, but no amount of positive thinking will ever make me a ballerina. So I resent being told that if you try really, really hard, you're bound to succeed.

Naturally, I never purchased the book for my daughter. When her aunts found out, they fretted that their niece would grow up  deprived and one of them gave her the book as a present. Once in her hands, I had no choice but to read it to her--again and again. Another thing--is that book long or what! Now--full confession--she did grow up to perservere in her chosen field, undertaking three grueling years in grad school and she's currently working at a very demanding job with an extremely long commute. Does she get through her day thinking, "I think I can. I think I can."? If so, then all those endless hours reading a book I didn't much like paid off.

Well, I'm glad I got that off my chest. Now it's your turn. What picture book sticks in your craw?


  1. I realize that you blog name is inspired by Dr. Seuss, but I have to say "Green Eggs and Ham." Whenever I am reading it all I can think is, "dear God, will this book never end!"

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  3. What a relief to find someone else who is irked by this classic. I think I can... be thankful that I do not have to read that book to anyone.

    I have always loved books, but I remember the first picture book that served me a taste of disappointment. I had learned to read at about the age of four, and I remember bringing a book about a giraffe to my very tired mother who worked nights and had just laid down to rest. "Read me a story?" I asked. "But you can read it to yourself now," she replied. For a moment I regretted having learned to read. I've thought about this when my own kids have asked their dog-tired mom to read a dog-eared favorite.

    - Ruth Gilmore Ingulsrud