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Life Lessons from The Little Engine That Could

One of my favorite books when I was a child was The Little Engine That Could. I still have the worn-out copy my mother read to me, and I enjoy reading it to my daughters. It teaches us many valuable life lessons about humility, self-belief, and helping others. 

The story begins with a red train engine carrying toys and food for children who live on the other side of the mountain. However, the train breaks down. Then the toy animals, a clown, and dolls attempt to help by pushing the train, but they are not able to get it to move.

At this point in the book, the life lessons begin. As with so many children’s books, the lessons can offer wisdom and remind adults of fundamental truths. 

Ask for Help

Having the courage to ask for help is crucial. This is illustrated in the book when the toys realize they need help to move the red train engine: “Here comes a shiny new engine… Let us ask him to help us,” said the clown. This moment in the story underscores the importance of reaching out for assistance when faced with challenges.


Newer Doesn’t Mean Better

We’re often tempted to believe that newer and shinier is synonymous with better, but this book teaches us otherwise. When the toys ask the Shiny New Engine for help, he responds: “I pull the likes of you? Indeed not!” This interaction reminds us that value isn’t always about having the latest model, technology, etc., but about the versatility and willingness to help others as needs arise.

“Then the toy clown called out, ‘Here is another engine coming, a great big strong one. Let us ask him to help us.’”

Strength Is for Service, Not Status

The book underscores the principle that strength should be wielded for service rather than as a means to elevate one’s status. This concept is illustrated through the Big Strong Engine, who, despite his power, refuses to assist, boastfully proclaiming, “I am a very important engine indeed. I won’t pull the likes of you!” This moment in the story highlights that value is not derived from one’s might or position but through acts of humility and service.

“Here comes another. He looks old and tired, but our train is so little, perhaps he can help us.”

Self-Doubt Can Limit Our Potential

Next, the book highlights how self-doubt can restrict our ability to see and act upon our potential. This lesson is evident when the Rusty Old Engine expresses his lack of confidence, sighing, “I am so tired… I cannot, I cannot, I cannot.” This engine’s repeated refrain reflects a mindset of self-doubt, which prevents him from even attempting the task. It’s a reminder that our beliefs about our own capabilities can often be the biggest hurdle to overcome. 

“Here is another engine coming, a little blue engine, a very little one, maybe she will help us.”

Just Because You Haven’t Doesn’t Mean You Can’t 

The story illustrates that past experience isn’t always a prerequisite for future success. The Little Blue Engine expresses her reservations, saying, “I am not very big… They use me only for switching trains in the yard. I have never been over the mountain.”

Then the engine looked at sad toys, thought of the children on the other side of the mountain and said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” She hitched herself to the train full of toys and slowly pulled the red train over the mountain. 

The Little Blue Engine’s initial doubt about her ability to help due to her lack of experience, highlights a common hesitation many of us face when confronting new challenges. Her eventual success reminds us that our capabilities are not defined by our past experiences. The story encourages us to embrace new opportunities with an open mind and a willingness to step beyond our comfort zones.


The story's core message, embodied in the Little Blue Engine’s “I think I can” chant serves as a timeless reminder that our limitations are often those we set for ourselves. Whether facing personal hurdles or professional challenges, this mantra encourages us to push beyond our doubts and fears.

Ultimately, this book teaches us that success is not just about capability but about the willingness to try. So, whenever you encounter obstacles, remember the enduring spirit of the Little Blue Engine.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What were your favorite books as a child?

  2. How might the lessons in those books have shaped your view of the world?

  3. What values do you find the stories you loved instilled in you, and how have these values influenced your choices as an adult?

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