Today is the official “book birthday” of Good Night, Little Engine!
A year or so ago, Grosset & Dunlap contacted me about writing a rhyming bedtime story featuring the Little Engine. The book would be part of the publisher’s celebration of the 90th Anniversary in 2020 of The Little Engine That Could. I immediately said, “I think I can!”
This sort of writing project is different from writing my own stories, where my own imagination or some spark from the world around me fuels my creative process. But I was eager to tackle this opportunity, since doing justice to such a classic of children’s literature—honoring the Little Engine that author Watty Piper created in 1930, while leaving my own mark on a new story—would be both challenging and fun.
After brainstorming a storyline with editors, I got to work. In my story, Little Engine has trouble falling asleep, hears a noise, goes exploring, and rescues someone or something. As I wrote, I kept in mind what it is about the original The Little Engine That Could story that appealed over many decades to readers young and old.
More than anything, Watty Piper’s Little Engine persevered. She didn’t give up. She delivered the toys to the girls and boys on the other side of the mountain, even though it was a very steep climb. Perseverance is something I have cultivated during the ups and downs and detours of a career as a children’s author. I can relate to Little Engine. So I definitely wanted to keep that underlying theme. Without spoiling anything, rest assured that my Little Engine doesn’t give up during her twilight adventure in Good Night, Little Engine.
I also wanted to include a bit of humor. What might Little Engine be counting instead of sheep as she tries to fall asleep?
But Little Engine’s wide awake.
How much longer will it take
for her to settle down to sleep,
counting cars instead of sheep?
Finally, how could I give Good Night, Little Engine a contemporary feel? I wanted a strong sense of friendship and caring. In the classic story, Little Engine is fiercely determined, and I kept that, but added a greater sense of community. My Little Engine’s friends help her overcome obstacles, and she acknowledges their teamwork at the end:
“I knew we could,” she says out loud
to all the weary train yard crowd.
“We knew we could!” they whisper back,
as dreams descend along the track.
As Good Night, Little Engine, beautifully illustrated by Jill Howarth, releases into a very different world than the one Watty Piper lived in, I am hopeful that perseverance, community, and teamwork will help us all move forward to better times.
And maybe, ten years from now, I’ll be writing a story to celebrate Little Engine’s 100th Anniversary! In the meantime, may Good Night, Little Engine comfort and inspire children and adults who read it at bedtime.