Customer Reviews: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
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on May 6, 2007
I hate to give this such a low rating, but before you buy the board book edition you need to know that it isn't just shortened, but the whole plot is gone.

Yes Henry B Swap is mentioned, but no mention of a challenge to dig the cellar in one day, or he won't get paid.

No sun high in the sky and being halfway done.

No Henry B Swap saying that since the steam shovel can't get out they don't get paid.

No ending where Henry B. Swap sits in the cellar and smiles in a way that's not mean at all.

If you want the great story, DON'T BUY THE BOARD BOOK!
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on August 1, 2000
When I was growing up, I don't think there was any story I requested more than Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel.I have fond memories of my grandfather reading it to me again and again.
The easy to remember and recite text, and the early 40s middle America drawings combine to create an evocative time piece.
I believe this is one book that will cut past the computer generated entertainment for today's youngsters, and prove to be a classic in generations to come.
If parents don't buy this for their kids, then I hope they'll buy it for themselves.
Great ending too!
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on August 3, 2000
Yes, its true -- I dreaded the nights (night after night after night) when one of my sons would insist we read this book! Why? Because it's long, and detailed -- good for the child, terrible for a weary parent. My boys memorized the story, and if I ever tried to skip a page, I was found out and the missing page was revisited.
This book is a great gift to give to any child who is enthralled with heavy machinery, but there's more to it than that. At the time the story is written (1939) Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, his steam shovel, are becoming outdated. They used to be busy in the big city, making basements for big buildings. But as always happens, something better - faster, more efficient gas, electric and Diesel shovels - is replacing them.
Mike Mulligan knows they still have value. He's always told people that Mary Anne could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week, though he's never been quite sure this is true.
To find work, he ventures into the country to the town of Popperville, where a new Town Hall is being built. Mike promises to build the cellar in just one day ("What!" said Henry B. Swap. "Dig a cellar in just one day! It would take a hundred men at least a week to dig the cellar for our new town hall." ) Henry and the townpeople are swayed when Mike promises that "If we can't do it, you won't have to pay."
The citizens of Bangerville and Bopperville, Kipperville and Kopperville plus all the people from Popperville come out to watch Mike and Mary Anne work hard under the hot sun. They finish the job as the sun sets, just in the nick of time.
One small boy has been watching them, and he asks a really good question - "How are they going to get out?" Mike was in such a hurry, he forgot to make a way to get Mary Anne out of the cellar.
Everyone tries to think of a solution, but it's that astute little boy who comes up with the best one. They decide to keep the Steam Shovel in the cellar, and build the town hall over them. Mike Mulligan can be the janitor, the steam shovel will keep the building warm in the winter, they won't have to buy a new furnace (Henry B. Swap really likes this frugal thought!) and everyone is happy.
The kids who read it especially like looking at all the tiny details in the pictures, but I think they especially like the small boy finding the solution that none of the adults can figure out.
In retrospect, I suppose it really wasn't that awful to have to read it again and again and again. I've got the original hardcover in hand, waiting for the grandkids!
Definitely worth buying the hardcover edition!
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on July 2, 2002
Well, contrary to Susan McGee's opinion, this book is great for girls and about girls. The gender-oriented language of "policeMEN", "fireMEN", etc is not straight out of the 1950's, it is in fact straight out of 1939 when the book was initially published. And in your obsessive noticing of all the "weak" women in the book, you overlooked MaryAnn- the heroine! Better than 100 men, SHE could dig a cellar in JUST ONE DAY!
I'm not overly crazy about this book. As one reviewer said, the detail is occasionally tedious for parents, but my kids love it and are riveted as the sun rises in the sky. That makes the book a winner for us. Not to mention that I like the message of not giving up on something/ someone just because something newer comes along. And my daughter loves it just as much as my son.
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on February 23, 2012
The original is a great book by one of the foremost writer/illustrator/designers of children's books. When I went to stay with my three-month old grandson, I was delighted that my daughter had provided him with a board-book edition, but when I started to read it to him, I was appalled at the omissions of plot, language, and character. I checked the copyright statement and found no acknowledgment of this abridgement. I think that any copyright holder who attempts to pass off an abridgement as the original should be stripped of the copyright.
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on May 18, 2002
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.
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on February 21, 2012
As stated elsewhere, the original edition of this book is fantastic, as are most of VLB's works.
However, this board book edition is awful.

I am getting so sick of board books; they often don't include the full text, and I'm starting to realize the omissions are not harmless.

By now we're all used to the politically-correct updating that's been done to so many classic books, especially for children.
So the fact that the reference to Mike Mulligan "smoking his pipe" has been deleted from the last page of the book is annoying, but expected.
But I don't expect them to remove all the dramatic tension.

In the original story, Mike makes a deal with the Popperville selectmen that if he can't finish the cellar in one day, he'll forfeit his fee.
Gutsy move! This guy's got spunk!
Then, when he forgets to "leave a way out", Henry B. Swap tries to get out of paying Mike by saying the cellar is not done b/c the steam shovel is still in it.
The little boy's idea to leave Mary Ann in the cellar as the furnace means the cellar is, in fact, officially finished.
This is a major plot point because it enables Mike to get paid.

This pathetic rendering leaves out that entire aspect of the story, so the only reason to care whether Mike can finish the cellar in just one day is curiosity.
And it reduces the steam-shovel-made-furnace idea to a bizarre segue to a bizarre ending.

Please, for the sake of maintaining our great heritage of classic children's books, do not buy this horrible, insulting board book.
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Few of us have ever seen a steam shovel in action, even we who had this great story read to us the first time around, back in '39. The diesel shovel digging out the neighbor's cellar down the street just didn't have the personality of Mary Anne and the operators didn't seem to have the determination of Mike Mulligan, though they always left a cellar ramp clear so they could get out when they were done.
But the tension in this story builds as the sun gets high in the sky and goes down so fast, as the dirt flies, the townfolks cheer and the job gets done only to have Henry B. Swap smile in his "rather mean way" when it is discovered that no exit was dug for Mary Anne to get out of the hole. Then "the little boy," who might have been me, or might have been my daughter when I read the story to her, or my grandson when I read the story to him, comes up with the idea that makes Ol' Henry B. Swap "smile in a way that wasn't quite so mean."
And finally, in semi-retirement, Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne don't have to compete any longer with the new-fangled machines and Henry B. Swap is there, "smiling in a way that isn't mean at all." There in Poppervile they have the contentment in aging that is worth dreaming about.
One of the Great Books!
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on April 30, 2011
I bought this as a gift for my 2yo son and was unhappy to discover that the story has been significantly abridged. The plot is there, but much of the charm is gone. Very disappointing.
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on January 25, 2002
They just don't make 'em like they used to!
A couple of years ago, my parents inquired as to what sort of books they could purchase for my children. "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel" was at the top of the list.
This book takes a child back to when steam engines were the power literally running the country -- and that the march of progress is not without its pain. It is an exciting book, well and colorfully illustrated with a wonderful "twist" at the end -- in which a small boy is proven to be brighter than all the adults in town -- because of his childlike perspective.
The politically correct will no doubt object to Mike Mulligan's pipe -- but I certainly don't! (Nor do my children!)
If you have children or grandchildren who have not been introduced to this book, buy it today!
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