Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, “A Labor of Love”

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“Never had Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne had so many people to watch them; never had they dug so fast and so well; and never had the sun seemed to go down so fast.”

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

“Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters. In the late 1800s, {which is the time of the first Labor Day celebration} at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.”   http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day

Teaching our kids our history helps them (and us) appreciate the journey of how and why our lives are like they are now. Although one cannot fully understand the conditions of past days, historical fiction books that take place in the 1800’s such as The Red Badge of Courage, Little Women, Across Five Aprils, Grasshopper Summer, Bound for Oregon, and Meet Kirsten, American Girl Doll Series really help children grasp the experiences and emotions of the characters living through those times.

For younger children (ages 3-8), perhaps the best “Labor Day Lessons” are found in a little book from 1939 that teaches diligence, loyalty, teamwork, and other good work ethics that will always remain vital for all generations. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is still a popular book and here’s why:

Introducing Our Featured Friend: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
By Virginia Lee Burton

Mike Mulligan loved Mary Anne, his beautiful red steam shovel. She could dig great canals, cut through mountains, make highways and landing fields, and do it all better and faster than anyone. But, when the new gasoline shovels, electric shovels, and Diesel motor shovels were invented, the steam trains were retired to junk yards. . .  except for Mary Anne.

Mike Mulligan loved Mary Anne. When he heard that Henry B. Swap needed to build a new town hall, Mike Mulligan asked him to give the job to them. Mike Mulligan promised him that if they couldn’t dig the cellar in one day, then he wouldn’t have to pay them. He agreed thinking he could get some of the work done without having to pay them for it.

“They started in early next morning just as the sun was coming up. Soon a little boy came along.
‘Do you think you will finish by sundown?’ he said to Mike Mulligan.
‘Sure,’ said Mike, ‘if you stay and watch us. We always work faster and better when someone is watching us.’
So the little boy stayed to watch. . . The more people came, the faster Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne dug.”

With most of the town surrounding them cheering, they finished the cellar at sundown! However, they dug so fast and so well that they forgot to leave a way out. Henry B. Swap smiled a sly smile thinking he could break their deal since it wasn’t really completed.

“Now the little boy . . . had another good idea. He said, ‘Why couldn’t we leave Mary Anne in the cellar and build a new town hall above her? Let her be the furnace for the new town hall and let Mike Mulligan be the janitor.’ “

That idea pleased everyone, even Henry B. Swap. Mike Mulligan, Mary Anne, the town’s people, and even Henry B. Swap saw first hand the value of diligence, loyalty, and teamwork that day.

5 LABOR Day Activities for Kids and Families:

L- Look up and list 5 facts about the origins of Labor Day.

A- Ask your family what work you can do Labor Day weekend to help: possibly chores around the house, yard or garden. Write down 3 things you completed.

B- Better your community by writing your town Mayor, Council Members, and other town workers to thank them for their labor. Your “cheers” will help them work even better!

O- Organize a fun activity for Labor Day for your family, friends, and/or neighbors to enjoy the day off!

R- Read an enjoyable book that helps you appreciate the value of hard work!

Which “LABOR” of love did you do? How did it make you feel? How did other people respond to your work? What did you learn?

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Happy Labor Day Weekend from Kidsbook Friends!

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1 Response to Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, “A Labor of Love”

  1. Love the way you photographed this book!

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