Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Time passes, things change. The new comes to replace the old, familiar ways are left behind. Today technology rates are developing so rapidly it almost feels like the present is already the past, and what was fabulous and useful yesterday is old and junky today. Originally published in 1939, author Virginia Lee Burton would have had no idea how relevant her children’s book Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel would be 73 years later as times began to change so drastically, nor could she have imagined that, like Mike’s steam shovel, her book would be delighting people now as much as it had when it first came out.

mike mulligan and his steam shovel

What’s ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’ About?

Mike Mulligan has a steam shovel named Mary Ann. He loves Mary Ann, and takes such good care of her that she never grows old. The inseparable duo do great things together-they build channels for big boats to pass through, they level hills for highways to be built, they dig paths through mountains for the railroads, and they even clear out fields so places for airplanes to land can be built. But eventually new construction equipment comes along, gasoline shovels and Diesel motor shovels, and electric shovels. Steam shovels are no longer needed; they’re being thrown in junk yards or turned to scrap. Mike Mulligan can’t do that to Mary Ann, even though there are no jobs for steam shovels anymore. Than one day an ad shows up for a job in Popperville-someone needs to dig a cellar for the new town hall. Mike and Mary Ann make their way slowly out of the city and into the small town. There they make a promise to dig the cellar in one day; otherwise they don’t have to get paid.

mike mulligan and his steam shovel book

The Illustrations/Text

Fun, brightly colored, old fashioned illustrations fill the pages of this book. I’ve had to read it over and over again and I never tire of them. I love the cheeriness of the pictures. There’s no elaborate artwork, just good crayon drawings that offer up a solid slice of nostalgia. They’re the kind of illustrations that will always be familiar and loved.

There is quite a bit of text here, but it’s simple and entertaining. It encourages youngsters to chime in now and then as they get familiar with the details-and they will get familiar, because chances are they’ll want to hear this story again and again.

mike mulligan and his steam shovel illustrations


Read it! Especially if you have a child that has any interest in construction or machinery. There are illustrations inside the front and back cover that show all the parts of a steam shovel, and the character of Mary Ann is bound to delight. The illustrations are bright and easy to fall in love with, and the story of perseverance and appreciating the things of yesterday is one that children and adults both will enjoy.

Leave a Reply