A picture book jumps out of the page when the subject matter is relevant to the reader. And nothing can make Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel jump out of their 73-year-old pages than a construction site right outside our gate!
Mike Mulligan and his trusty steam shovel, called Mary Anne, “can dig as much in a day as a hundred men in a week.” They dig canals for boats to pass through, mountains for train tracks, hills for roads, and cellars for buildings. But when machines that run with gasoline and diesel arrive with progress, Mike and Mary Anne find themselves obsolete. How they prove themselves to the people of Poppersville and how the story ends are fine examples of hard work and resourcefulness.
Written by Virginia Lee Burton and published in 1939, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” has been delighting several generations of children already. I am so glad to discover it for my children through “Five in a Row!” Here’s how this oldie but goody filled our week with magical learning fun.
Mike and Mary Anne persevered to finish the work that they set out to do. I wrote about how we focused on perseverance in my last blog post using We Choose Virtues.
Little T only got intrigued with the giant machines in the neighborhood when we started reading the book. We spent a good chunk of our mornings standing in the heat, watching the machines at work, and talking to the operators (who were NOT wearing proper safety gear!). It’s like we had a field trip everyday!
We gave the machines “their” very own names just like Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel as an exercise in personification. We realized, though, that our children have already personified their favorite toys – Baby Sofie for Little T’s oldest doll, and Yagi for Little Sir’s wooden pull-along dog.
Sources of Power
Mary Anne runs by steam. As suggested in the Five in a Row manual, we did a little science experiment with a pinwheel and a steaming kettle – but the pinwheel failed to spin! We’re going to do it again once we find a kettle with a smaller spout.
We had a fine time discussing the different power sources that different vehicles use. Some use gasoline, diesel, and electricity. Our own tiny “back hoe” runs on rechargeable battery.
For some serious “academic work” we talked about squares, like what Mike and Mary Anne dig for the town hall. We used Wikki Stix and a geoboard to make and compare squares and rectangles. We now know that all sides of the square have the same size.
When I had to be away for work for the last day of our Mike Mulligan lessons, Wonderful G took over as the art teacher. He took the kids out on a walk to look at trees and then had Little T compare what she saw with how trees are rendered in the book. They also practiced drawing trees in the Megasketcher… but we don’t have any pictures of their efforts.
I can’t wait to re-“row” (to read five days in a row) Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel when they are 74 years old and we are able to dig deeper as Little T would also be one year older by then.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
Construction Trucks by Jennifer Dussling
The Little Yellow Digger by Betty and Alan Gilderdale