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Happy to be placing this classic into our grandchildren's hands!
on March 6, 2017
When you have ten children, you learn to live life in thrifty ways - my mother was a frequent visitor to used book stores while we were growing up and, when I saw Mike Mulligan on Amazon's list of 100 Children's Books to Read in a Lifetime, it brought back memories of reading a battered copy of this book to my younger brothers (which always seemed to inspire them to gather their old Tonka trucks and head outside for some excavating of their own!) I'd mentioned to my dad (born the year before the Great Depression ended in 1939, the year this book was first published) that I'd just purchased the 75th anniversary edition of Mike Mulligan for my grandkids and - even though he was stricken with Alzheimer's years ago, it brought an instant smile of recognition... this was a book he remembered from his childhood as well!
As soon as you open this book, the old-fashioned illustrations take you back to what was a simpler time, but also an extremely stressful time - the end of the longest and most far-reaching economic downturn in our nation's history (at its lowest point, 13-15 million Americans were out of work, close to half of the banks had failed, a time when bread lines and soup kitchens were the norm, with foreclosures and repossessions leading to rising numbers of homeless as people lost their jobs - just as Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel named Mary Anne do, as steam shovels are quickly being replaced by power shovels. The deep hole Mike and Mary Anne find themselves in with no way out feels reflective of that period. It was a time when loyalty, trust, faith and ingenuity was about all you had to get by on, and the deep friendship between Mike and Mary Anne is a perfect example of that. 1939 was the year American industry shifted into high gear with WW II, when pulling together to support the troops was everything, including re-purposing of various items for new usages... just as Mary Anne becomes re-purposed as a furnace for a new town hall, for which Mike becomes the janitor - still together through it all. It was interesting to discover that Mary Anne's name was based on the Marion, Ohio's Marion Steam Shovel Company, re-named the Marion Power Shovel Company after the change from steam to diesel power within the industry had taken hold. (Sadly, after being sold, spun off, and then integrated into the product line of a long time rival, the Marion facility was closed.)
This 75th Anniversary edition is a beautiful book (with instructions on how to download a free audiobook on the first page)... some of the pages are pretty wordy, so I don't know that it would hold the attention of a 2 year old, but I think our 4-1/2 year old grandson will do fine with it - the words are very simple, and are displayed in interesting configurations (many of the pages have the lines of words in a slanted fashion, which sort of reminds me of a big load of words Mary Anne might lift!), and though the imprinted $17.99 price on the cover seems a bit hefty for a 44-page book, this is one of the true classics (which the National Education Association places among the "Teachers' Top 100 Books") - one we'll be happy to place into the hands of our grandchildren. My favorite thing about the story is the sense of dignity and respect with which Mike and Mary Anne are treated in the end, after all of their years of hard work. If only all American workers could look forward to the same treatment!