Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton
I have decided to write a few reviews of classic children’s books. I am doing this as I think that parents quite often neglect to buy really good books for their children to read. Quite often they just buy books that are trendy or are filled with the latest TV characters such as Bob The Builder or Hannah Montana and don’t think about whether these are good books for their children. Some parents think that it doesn’t matter what their children are reading as long as they are reading, while others just follow trends or their children’s wishes. A lot of parents don’t want to buy their children classic picture books because they are too old fashioned for modern children, while many department stores and book shops only have the latest books.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is a delightful children’s picture book that was first published way back in 1939. The story is about Mike Mulligan who with his steam shovel Mary Anne has been successfully digging holes, including the ‘great canal’, for many years but has recently become considered redundant in the big cities due to the introduction of modern diesel and electric powered shovels. To solve this problem Mike takes Mary Anne to the little town of Popperville to dig the basement of their new town hall in a single day to prove that Mary Anne can do the work of 100 men. Mike and Mary Anne succeed against the odds but unfortunately have dug themselves into a hole… literally… and cannot get out, until a young boy suggests that Mary Anne could be used as the furnace of the new building.
The book features excellent illustrations by Virginia Lee Burton that were rendered in crayon. Whilst kids today may think that the illustrations are a little old fashioned compared to those in more modern picture books, I have always been fascinated by them. The pictures also match the theme of the text which is saying that even though something is old, it doesn’t mean that it is no good, especially if it is well taken care of. Like one of Burton’s other books, The Little House, this nostalgic book seems to be lamenting progress and commenting on how progress can mean that things end up being replaced unnecessarily by newer, more modern machines, even if the older machines can still do their job perfectly well. (This can also be applied to people, where older people are made redundant and replaced by younger workers!)