The Little Engine… That Did



When Little Miss was born, we signed her up for the Imagination Library. The first book we received, as is their standard to send first and foremost, was The Little Engine That Could.

I’m writing under the assumption you’ve read, or at least heard, the story over the course of your life. It’s a powerful little tale, giving us all the push to be self-confident not only in our abilities, but in our possibilities and potential. If we maintain a positive attitude and think we can, we just might surprise ourselves and actually do.

This morning, Little Man brought me book after book to read to him. It’s become part of our morning routine, and one of my favorite parts at that. He grabs a book from the shelf, says, “Dis one, Mama.” and brings it over to our little reading corner on the sofa. He climbs into my lap, settles in against me, and we read. Sometimes he wants me to take his finger and point to each word, other times, he’s very inquisitive about the pictures. Most of the time, however, he’s content to sit and listen while Mama turns the pages in whatever story he’s brought me. When we finish, pipes up, “Anudder one!” and the cycle continues.

One of the books he brought me today was The Little Engine That Could.

Confession time: I don’t like reading this book. I know, I know… it’s a classic. It has such a great message. Every child needs to know the story.

But it’s so. long. And the copy we have breaks the sentences up across turning pages, and I simply don’t like reading it.

It doesn’t matter, though, because my kids’ desire to hear the story always trumps my disdain for reading it. He handed it to me, climbed up in my lap, and we began.

I’ve read the book dozens of times. I heard it as many or more times when I was a child. This time, however, I heard the story through a different perspective. As I was reading, a little voice in my head noted, “You never know the whole story.”

Train after train was denying the toys and dolls assistance, because of their own situations. I’m not saying this is bad – sometimes you simply cannot, no matter how much you think you can. But none of the trains denying their service stopped to inquire as to the backstory of the situation. None of them asked – or cared? – why the toys and dolls were asking for assistance in the first place.

Once upon a time, I was extremely jaded against helping others after a burly man in a WalMart parking lot hit me up for cash. You can read about it here, but it soured me for many years. Any time I saw anyone asking for help (especially in the form of money), I scoffed.

What if the other trains assumed the toys and dolls were boozers, looking for a handout? What if the other trains had never been helped themselves, and therefore didn’t know how to give help to others?

What if the other trains had taken the time to stop and listen to the entire situation before passing judgment?

Finally, a little blue engine – a friendly one at that – approaches the characters in need. She sees their distress, and stops. She listens to their story. She doubts her ability to help, but does it anyway. She affirms herself and makes the possible a reality. She’s a hero!

It doesn’t stop with having a can-do attitude, though. A little compassion goes a long way.

The problem wasn’t the first engine breaking down. The problem was no one stopped to hear the whole story. The toys and dolls weren’t simply looking to meet a deadline. They were looking to fulfill a purpose.

Little boys and girls got their toys and dolls. They got their good food to eat. Their future was preserved – and who knows, even progressed – because of the willingness of the little engine.

The little engine’s actions caused a ripple-effect we don’t read about. Often times we don’t realize how big a ripple one act of kindness makes. One simple determination could change the course of an entire generation.

But you won’t know unless you do it.

I think you can.

Let’s take a lesson from a book that hasn’t been my favorite (until right now). Don’t just think you can. Be the little engine who DOES. Be the little engine who DID. And watch how you can change the world.