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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD


The Little Engine That Could and Other Success Stories

The part of this story that everyone remembers best is the triumphal ending when The Little Engine that Could climbs the mountain and successfully brings all the wonderful toys and food to the good little children on the other side of the mountain. It is memorable, but much happens before that happy ending!

First, an engine breaks down creating a need that was immediately recognized by the clown, toys, and doll. Then pride steps in—not just once but twice. First, the passenger train is too busy and proud to help children, then the freight engine follows suit. The toy clown is the positive thinker throughout the process. “Here comes another!” He is always looking down the line for the answer to the problem.

Enters on track right— a “dingy, rusty, old engine.” The rusty old engine says the perfect “I can’t” statement: “I am so tired. I must rest my weary wheels. I cannot pull even so little a train as yours over the mountain. I can not. I can not. I can not.” Still the clown was not to be discouraged! “Here is another engine coming, a little blue engine, a very little one, but perhaps she will help us.” (Italics mine. Yes, it is a she—even though in a survey of university students, 70% said it was a “he.”)

Just like Moses, the Little Blue Engine gave reasons why it was not possible for her to carry out the task; in this case to pull the train across the mountains. She basically states that she was small and unimportant and that she had never done anything like that before. Hmmmm, does that sound familiar? Then, she saw the desperate need, realized she was the only one who could help, and said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” All the toys cheered! (Note: It is very important to have a cheering section when we decide to do the impossible.) She said, “I think I can” all the way up that hill. Again and Again and Again. “Up, up, up. Faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed until at last they reached the top of the mountain.”

Did you hear that? Faster and faster and faster—the little engine gained momentum! The first few feet were probably the hardest, but once she got going, she actually got faster even though she was climbing up a steep hill! And everyone shouted, “Hurrah, hurrah!”

Finally, the part we most remember: “And the Little Blue Engine smiled and seemed to say as she puffed steadily down the mountain. “I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.”

The story says it all, but I can’t resist listing the important lessons:

1. Needs are everywhere. Your dream will usually be a result of a need—yours or others.

2. Others will not always see the same need or have any desire to help.

3. You (sometimes perceived as a clown) must stay focused and positive.

4. Almost everyone has an initial “I can’t reaction” but don’t stop there!

5. Remove the [‘t] and say, “I can!”

6. The first steps are always the hardest, but you will gain momentum.

7. Those who appreciate your efforts will gather to cheer for you!

8. The satisfaction of reaching the goal cannot be underestimated.

That’s the story. I have taught Children’s Literature courses for thirty years and have found some of the most important life lessons in the simple (yet complex) pages of children’s books. This story is repeated again and again in the pages of life. Those who think they can, really can. There are so many success stories in the pages that my friends have lived. Get ready! I am going to be sharing a few stories of those I know who truly are The Little Engines that Could! Begin now to start thinking about creating your own page in the book of success stories!

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