The tale of an optimistic little train engine has been published in America as early as 1906, where a version appeared in the New York Tribune as part of a sermon by Reverend Charles S. Wing. Long believed by some critics to be a metaphor for the American dream, this uplifting tale about the value of hard work and the power of believing in yourself has been teaching children powerful life lessons for generations. Here are ten of the things that kids can take away from the story of The Little Engine That Could.

  1. Optimism is a Must – The centerpiece of this morality tale is indisputably the optimism and refusal to give up displayed by the smaller and less powerful engine who refuses to admit defeat. Believing in herself and her eventual success, she toils away to reach her goal.
  2. Hard Work is the Key to Success – Though reaching the top of the mountain was extremely hard work for The Little Engine That Could, she didn’t shy away from the task. Instead, she simply did what needed to be done.
  3. Little Things Can Handle Big Jobs – Kids reading or watching a version of this classic tale can find inspiration in the fact that the small engine, much like a small child, was still able to accomplish a job that everyone thought was too big for her.
  4. Keep Your Eyes On the Prize – With singleminded focus, The Little Engine That Could repeats her mantra of, “I think I can, I think I can,” all the way up the steep mountain. She did not allow herself to become distracted, instead placing all of her attention on accomplishing the task at hand.
  5. Sometimes, Saving the Day Takes All You Have – The Little Engine That Could made it across the mountain to deliver the toys she was hauling to the children who were eagerly awaiting them, saving the day even though it required every ounce of her energy. She sets an incredible example to kids about giving your all to help those in need.
  6. Be Brave – The Engine knew that the job before her would be very difficult, even almost impossible. Still, she faced it bravely and took on the task with gusto, eager to deliver her toys and help the children.
  7. Take Pride in Your Accomplishments – As she coasted down the mountain after triumphantly scaling the steep face, the Little Engine repeated a new version of her mantra, “ I thought I could, I thought I could.” Proud of herself and her accomplishment in the face of unbelievable odds, she teaches children to be proud of their own triumphs.
  8. A Job Well Done is Its Own Reward – The Little Engine That Could received nothing in the way of a reward for her hard work, realizing instead that the pride in herself and knowledge that she’d made a difference was its own reward.
  9. Arrogance is Not Appealing – The conceit and snobbery of the other engines who believed themselves above the task of delivering toys to children quickly fade into the background of the story, helping kids to see that their arrogance set them apart from the optimistic Little Engine’s enthusiasm.
  10. Helping Others is a Sign of Good Character – Helping others for no reward, other than the peace of mind and sense of accomplishment that comes with such a task, is something that the Little Engine does well. Small fans of this tale know that good people offer to help those in need.

This plucky little engine has found itself the subject of several books and films, even appearing in the Disney film Dumbo. In addition to revised and updated versions of the tale itself, the books have seen several reprints with illustration overhauls.