The Little Girl That Could

Ask me to think of my favorite childhood book and my mind comes up with Blubber. Then I think of Forever. What about the sweet, lovely little tales that I first heard back when I was a little innocent, I wondered? I remembered Pat the Bunny, suddenly recalling that I pulled the fur off of my copy.

A call to Mom was in order. I was a bit reticent to call her, seeing as she was getting a PhD in literature during the period in time we’re discussing (she went back to school when I was two) and I seem to recall her reading me books I knew she wanted me to love but I just couldn’t get into — Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia, the kinds of books that kids who were never going to worship Judy Blume books would love.

She told me my favorite book was about a timid mouse that frees a bird. I’m not even putting the title in here or linking to it because I had no recollection whatsoever with this book that she claims I was uncommonly obsessed with. I’d accuse her of getting me mixed up with my brother because, as we all know, parents do things like that, but my brother only liked books about science and space ships and Narnia (yes, he was one of those kids) and would surely have turned his nose up at anything having to do with a timid mouse.

Mom ran another few books by me that didn’t resonate at all but then she mentioned The Little Engine That Could. Eureka moment because that rang a bell — although mostly because we used to go to this restaurant when I was little that was designed to look like a train car and the children’s menu could, in fact, be folded into a train as well. I think the book and menu must have somehow meshed in my mind because I have a distinct memory of running the cardboard train — which, as I recall, was so difficult to put together that it was surely training for future struggles with Ikea furniture — along the table and calling it “the little engine that could.” No recollection of the book, but Mom says it was similar in theme to the mouse story in that it was about this “innocuous thing doing something heroic.” As the second child, I always felt forgotten about, so a theme like that must have seemed incredibly hopeful to me. Although Mom says I mostly just obsessed over this picture of the conductor (who, she says, was a rather hateful character) and swore he was “looking at me in a mean way.”

It’s funny, though — recovery literature, like Permanent Midnight and Rachel’s Holiday, two of my favorite books of all time — really do traipse on the same territory by covering the heroic journeys of people who appeared to have no hope whatsoever. And I guess that means that my book does, too. The Little Engine That Could, indeed.

10 Replies to “The Little Girl That Could”

  1. I loved The Little Engine that Could, too. “I think I can, I know I can” is deep stuff. I also loved Marian Keye’s Rachel’s Holiday, though all her books are great. I was a sucker for anything about animals in distress. I devoured Born Free, Black Beauty, and Misty of Chincotegue.

  2. I have a book I know I loved but can’t remember, too. It was in the elementary school library, and it was from the 50s, because it was about a girl recovering from polio whose doctor tells her mother to let her take ballet lessons. File that under Books I Wish I’d Stolen From the Library When I Had the Chance.

    I actually own “Rachel’s Holiday” but haven’t read it… I’ll pull it off the shelf and put it in the queue!

  3. As I’ve mentioned in earlier comments The Little Engine That Could was/is/always will be my favorite book — childhood or otherwise. That little engine taught me about the challenges to expect from life and how to have the strength and courage to deal with them. Innocuous? How about inspired?

  4. My God, I don’t know how you all remember the books you loved as children so well. I barely remember the title, let alone what it said. Speaking of which, I swear that polio/ballet lessons book sounds familiar…if you figure out the title, let me know. And Rachel’s Holiday is wonderful. How can you not love a book that starts out with, They say I’m a drug addict but surely drug addicts are thinner?

  5. Yes, yes, yes, on Judy Blume. You know, for my post on Saturday I went and looked up what year Deenie was published. 1971. Good lord. What a truly admirable career.

    I don’t remember The Little Engine That Could being particularly influential as a child, however, I was mad for any Dr. Seuss except the Cat in the Hat. And, Miss Anna, I’ll have you know that I loved Wind In The Willows and the Narnia series, and I worshipped Judy Blume too 🙂 I was sooo confused…

  6. Oh my gosh – Blubber! I can’t believe I forgot about that book. I thought I’d saved all my favs from when I was younger, but I guess not. For some reason recovery books fascinate me – I hadn’t heard of Rachel’s Holiday. I’ll have to check it out.

  7. You know, I haven’t read most of the books you mentioned…In fact, I haven’t read many books at all in the past few years. But you’re wrong about one thing; I adored Judy Blume an a child, but I loved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe nearly as much.
    Although I will admit that I found the rest of the Narnia series to be a bit dull.

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