Penguin Young Readers Celebrates 90 Years Of “The Little Engine That Could”

Caldecott Award-Winner Dan Santat Illustrates 90th Anniversary Edition With Introduction By Dolly Parton

Penguin Young Readers announced today the publication of a commemorative 90th Anniversary edition of Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could. Scheduled for publication on April 7, 2020, as part of a 90th Anniversary publishing program, the book will feature reimagined illustrations by Caldecott Award-winner Dan Santat, and an introduction by Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter and founder of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Dolly Parton recalls the lasting impact of "The Little Engine That Could". Dolly said,

“My memories take me way back to a little cabin in East Tennessee. This was not a place where dreams easily came true. Too often, there was talk about all of the things we couldn’t do rather than all of the things we could do. On many occasions, when my dream seemed far away, my Mama would tell me the story of the Little Engine to comfort and encourage me. While I listened to her, I would close my eyes and think of myself as the Little Engine and just start saying over and over again, ‘I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.’ It gave me strength, it gave me hope, and it gave me the courage to keep chasing my dreams.”

Caldecott Award-winning artist Dan Santat was honored to illustrate the 90th anniversary edition: “It doesn’t take much to lift a person’s spirits and make us believe that we can all possibly become more than we ever dreamed, and it’s all thanks to a little blue engine.”

Little Blue Engine

“I think I can, I think I can.” These simple words, now ubiquitous, were first uttered 90 years ago by the Little Blue Engine in the children’s classic "The Little Engine That Could." One of the most popular and enduring picture books of the last century, "The Little Engine That Could" has sold more than 20 million copies and inspired millions of children to push their boundaries and challenge their fears. It is the first book every child receives from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which now gifts half a million copies every year. The book has been adapted for film multiple times over the years, including a 3-D adaptation in 2011 featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Jamie Lee Curtis, Alyson Stoner, and Corbin Bleu. In 2005, Penguin Young Readers published an edition illustrated by Loren Long.

Author Watty Piper

Watty Piper was a pen name of Arnold Munk, an owner of the publishing firm Platt & Munk. Arnold Munk was born in Hungary and, as a child, moved with his family to Chicago. He later moved to New York, where he died in 1957. Arnold Munk used the name Watty Piper as both an author of children's books and as the editor of many of the books that Platt & Munk published.

Illustrator Dan Santat

Dan Santat is the author and illustrator of the Caldecott Award-winning "The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend," as well as the New York Times Best Selling titles "Are We There Yet?", "After the Fall", and others. He is also the creator of Disney's animated hit, "The Replacements." Dan lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, and a menagerie of pets.
Visit him at

Dolly presented an Alabama boy with the 25 millionth Imagination Library book

In 2010, racing across borders and gaining speed, "The Little Engine That Could," was chug chug chugging along, while the actual book itself arrived in mailboxes, much to the delight of 249,125 children under five. With over 1,300 operating programs in three countries, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was mailing 560,000 books a month, a grand total of 7.1 million this particular year.

In July, The Junior League of Birmingham, and Dolly herself presented the 25 millionth book to Kumar Smith.

"It was beautiful,"

mother Shalisha Stewart said of her family's experience.

"She sang Kumar a song, 'Celebrate the Dreamer in You.' She wrote it for him. He was like, 'She wrote me a song?' And I told him that he was the hero of the day."

Knox County Schools in Tennessee completed the year-long study of their new kindergartners, and in Michigan, the Great Start Collaborative commissioned a study by Michigan State University on the same age group. Children enrolled in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library performed better on all assessments than children who were not enrolled. In addition, the University of Alaska Anchorage researchers, completed evaluation studies of Imagination Library demonstrating that children participating in the program are more enthusiastic about reading, read to more often, and perceived by parents to be better prepared for school. While the books are free to families, the lasting impact of the program is priceless.


Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse brings the joy of reading to life at Dollywood

Dolly’s Imagination Playhouse, featuring the Penguin Players, brings many of the classic children's books from her Imagination Library to life. The first production was of "The Little Engine that Could," Dolly’s personal favorite and the first book mailed to children in the program. (more…)

Dolly's Imagination Library available across USA with national replication efforts

In 2000, the Imagination Library took a bold step forward in the campaign to inspire a love of reading and made the program available for national replication. Always leading off with Dolly’s favorite title, “The Little Engine That Could,” this millennial expansion was the start of delivering this popular favorite as well as more quality books into the homes of many more children.

The Dollywood Foundation was focused on the further development of this program and promoting it throughout the entire country. Sponsors and community champions began to emerge across the country to finance the cost of the books and the mailing expense. Locally managed and designed to reflect the unique personality of the community, each operating Affiliate is responsible for the program’s longevity.

Throughout the year, negotiations continued with publishers to improve the quality of the individual titles while maintaining if not lowering, the cost. Combining Affiliate strategies and ongoing analytics brought more attention to early human growth, through studies on brain research, language skills, motor development, socialization or literacy skills, confirming that the years between birth and five are the most critical time in the development of a child.

The Dollywood Foundation launches Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Sevier County, TN

Inspired by her humble beginnings and her big childhood dreams, Dolly created the Imagination Library to instill a love of reading and learning in the children within her community. The book gifting program sends a free, age-appropriate book to registered children every month from birth to age five. Dolly wanted to get kids excited about books and feel the magic books create. Reflecting on her vision, Dolly said,

"My dream has been for every child to have a library of books that their parents can read to them from, from the time they are born until they start school. The Imagination Library was designed to help children Dream More, Learn More, Care More, Be More and by golly it's really working."

The program was made available to all children in Sevier County, TN under age five. Each child received the same introductory book, which happens to be Dolly's favorite children's story, "The Little Engine That Could," by Watty Piper. From birth to age five, children receive a 60-book library completely free and delivered right to their mailbox, with their name on the label.

The Imagination Library's first book order totaled 1,760 books mailed to the children of Sevier County, TN.



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