Hurrah for Kids' Books, pt. 2
The Sunday Papers, June 19

For Train Buffs

Dig this. Watty Piper is not a real person. I thought he was the guy who wrote The Little Engine That Could. But no. That book  was a childhood favorite of mine.  "I think I can, I think I can..."

The Detroit News catches us up to date on the Little Engine and another famous train, Thomas the Tank Engine, the beloved of  4-year-old trainspotters.

Although The Little Engine That Could has near-universal recognition today, few people can name the book's author. And that's fine, because the "author"—Watty Piper—never existed.

Watty Piper actually is a pseudonym for a group of people at a publisher called Platt & Munk. In 1930, Platt & Munk listed Piper as the "editor" of The Little Engine That Could. In fact, the story of the plucky little engine was first published in 1906 as Thinking One Can. [Ed.'s note: Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?]

Holy smokes. The next thing you know the news will come out that "Dr. Seuss" is a pseudonym, too.


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Watty Piper wasn't real? Wow, I feel so much better knowing that my hateful thoughts about "him" weren't directed at a real person after all.

Am I the only one nauseated by the way the characters in Little Engine "cry" this and "cry" that and never seem to "say" anything? And what about the not-so-good boys and girls. Don't they get anything?

Chris, I think you're onto something with all the "crying." In the Hansel and Gretel story we've been reading (in A Treasury for Five Year Olds [Parragon Publishing, 2003]), Gretel sobs instead of talking. (Not that she didn't have good reason to boo-hoo.) There's a lot of crying in that collection's "Rapunzel," too. I don't know what's up with that. Maybe just an old-school thang. Maybe we can pin it all on Watty Piper.

chris and susan -- I think it's an "era of authorship" thing -- stories for children in "those" days used words like cry rather than exclaim or say -- used more variants than stories these days seem to use. I'm sure there are also many variants today which appeared in usage between The Little Engine That Could's time and our own present day purchasing for our children -- but SOME lessons are timeless and while they are often retold in new tales -- I rather like the learning that goes with reading the "classic" lesson in the "old" language -- even if all the crying seems dated -- explain the age of the story -- utilize the universality of the underlying lesson -- expand the modern child's knowledge of and relationship to the roots of our language and the growth and development of this marvelous tool over the passage of time.

I have the same attitude toward those who want to give a modern gloss/think to the attitudes and societal mores of a book written over fifty years ago -- hey -- we've come a long way baby -- but some things must be read in a time context to really "get" the picture being presented -- even if the actual lesson is timeless.

Hi, Susan -- you've heard me on these things before -- great site. LOVE the name Chicken Spaghetti.

Hi, Dottie! I'm so glad that you're visiting Chicken Spaghetti. Thanks so much for your comments. I'm sure you're right about the historical usage. I wonder what today's equivalent is.

One of these days I hope to actually post a Chicken Spaghetti recipe. I am awaiting a response from the Austin (TX) Women's Symphony League, so I can reprint my favorite from its cookbook. So far, though, I'm not holding my breath.

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