• J. J. Sedelmaier

Watty Piper's 1930 “The Little Engine That Could”

When I was a very young child (circa 1960), one of the first books I was given was a 1930 edition of Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could. I’ve loved trains since I was a kid and I’m convinced this little tome was an early contribution to what’s become an obsession. It would be several years before I realized there is more than one version of the classic children’s story. A newer version with slightly revised text and completely redone illustrations was published in 1954. (And the story was given yet another updated treatment with illustrations by Ruth Sanderson in 1976.) As I got more and more into graphic design and illustration, every once in a while I’d go back to compare the 1930  and 1954 treatments. I’ve always come up with the same evaluation—the 1930 version kicks the 1954 version’s ass! I love the simplicity of the design, the flat primary colors, and the printing in the earlier publication. There are more illustrations—one on every page—in the newer edition, but I get a much richer experience from the journey I take with the 1930 version of the story. The later edition, with illustrations by George and Doris Hauman, has come to be the one most people are familiar with (even Amazon lists it as the “Original Classic Edition”), and the original 1930 printing has become harder to find (grab it if you see it !), but putting the two side by side makes me appreciate Lois Lenski’s version more.

On a separate note, “Watty Piper,” the book’s author, is actually the pen name for publisher Arnold Munk, owner of Platt & Munk, who published The Little Engine That Could. He also handpicked Lois Lenski to illustrate the 1930 edition. It’s unknown if he later chose the Haumans in 1954 to interpret the story in their style, but he was editor at Platt & Munk until his death in 1957.

I’ve scanned both books and presented them below. . .

Lois Lenski’s dust jacket illustration

The laminated cover art on red fabric boards

Nice additional touch of blue. . .

Now for the 1954 “New And Improved” edition. Both the text and the art was updated.

The plastic laminated cover of the 1954 version. This is a 1996 reissue. (“The Complete Original Edition”? Really??)


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