Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel [SCM]

by Virginia Lee Burton Author

Mike and Mary Anne race to dig a basement for the new town hall in just one day.

Additional Details

Resource Type
Print Status
In Print
Suggested Grades
Early Years - Early Years
Houghton Mifflin

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Mike Mulligan teaches work ethic, faithfulness

Reviewed by Parent/Teacher

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel features a delightful story with lovely, colorful illustrations, focusing on character traits of faithfulness, hard work, and responsibility. Lessons taught within begin right on page one, where we learn that Mike is proud of the capabilities of his beloved steam shovel, Mary Anne. He unselfishly proclaims that Mary Anne could outdig one hundred men. A mini-history lesson unfolds as the reader is told of how the pair has dug great canals, railroad passes, highways, and landing strips. The progression of illustrations beautifully show this progress in time as well.

As steam shovels are replaced over time with gasoline, electric, and diesel-powered shovels, Mike and Mary Anne find themselves out of work. Mike Mulligan, never once abandoning Mary Anne, reads a newspaper article about a new town hall to be built in a neighboring town. They head out to Popperville to meet selectman, Henry B. Swap. Mike promises him that if they can't dig the cellar of the new town hall in one day, he won't have to pay them for the work. Swap knows a good deal when he sees it, and he agrees to let them try.

Early next morning, the work begins. A little boy stops by to watch, and he is told that Mike and Mary Anne "always work faster and better when someone is watching us." Then, little by little, community interest is piqued as townspeople, schoolchildren, and even folks from neighboring towns come to watch the cellar's progress, corner by corner. Just before sunset, the cellar is completed--in one day, just as promised.

To our alarm, readers discover that the hard-working pair has forgotten to leave themselves a way out of the cellar. Henry B. Swap, who was simply looking for a way to get part of the town hall project finished at no cost, declares that the job is not complete as long as the steam shovel is still in the cellar. Ideas abound throughout the community onlookers until, finally, the little boy who was Mike and Mary Anne's first supporter has a suggestion. Cries of "why not?" ripple through the crowd, and even Henry B. Swap is satisfied with the proposal: Mary Anne will remain in the cellar and be turned into a furnace for the town hall, with Mike Mulligan as her caretaker. Now the entire town of Popperville shares the pride in Mary Anne's accomplishments.

This beloved tale allows young readers to consider such traits as faithfulness (Mike never abandons Mary Anne, even though she is considered 'outdated'), a strong work ethic (traveling to where the work can be found, working from sunup to sundown), and responsibility (accepting no pay if the task is not completed). These character traits are often hard to find in today's society, and this book creates a sense of heroism in striving to exhibit such attributes. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel provides an engaging way to teach young children the value of these godly characteristics. I highly recommend it for readers ages 3 to 6.

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