“I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can,” said the little blue engine as it chugged slowly up the rocky mountain. When you are a three-year-old and small–when you are just learning how to do things that grown-ups take for granted–the story of “The Little Engine That Could” is empowering. In the story, the train engine that was the most unlikely to be able to pull the long line of train cars over the mountain was able to do it! As the train went down the other side of the mountain it chuffed, “I-thought-I-could, I-thought-I-could, I-thought-I-could.”
The version of “The Little Engine That Could” that most families know is by Watty Piper (the pen name of Arnold Munk), illustrated by Lois Lensky, and published in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The origin of the story is unclear, but is similar to part of a sermon, “The Story of the Engine That Thought It Could,” by the Rev. Charles S. Wing in 1906. The story in the sermon was later published as a children’s book named “The Pony Engine” in 1910.
Since the 1930 publication of “The Little Engine That Could” there have been other slightly different versions of the story published and many references in popular culture to the notion of “I think I can,” promoting the idea that even if you think you can’t do it, just try!
Not every time a child tries to do something new, however, ends up successfully. Sometimes there is disappointment. That’s when a parent can talk to their child about how much is learned just in the attempt, even if things don’t turn out as we plan. Reading storybooks about trying can help open up a conversation about life’s ups and downs. Talk about the books you read together and listen to what your child thinks about the stories. You may be surprised!
Try these books for your pre-schooler which all support trying, but also are realistic about the abilities and interests of a young child.
• “I Like It When…” written and illustrated by Mary Murphy. A very affirming story for youngsters about doing things together with a grown-up, like eating new foods, helping around the house, dancing, and sharing books. The book ends with a sweet, “I love you.”
• “From Head to Toe” written and illustrated by Eric Carle. From turning your head like a penguin to bending your knees like a camel, activities all end with the refrain of “I can do it!” This is a fun book to read and act out with your child.
• “Can I Play Outside?” by Mathew Price, illustrated by Atsuko Morosumi. Featuring a bear family, this story illustrates in a gently way how grown-ups can do some things that children can’t (such as drive a car), but that children can do lots of other things (like play in the sandbox).