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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Daniel Walker Howe

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Daniel Walker Howe is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, the New-York Historical Society American History Book Prize, a finalist in 2007 for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, and winner of the Silver Medal for Non-Fiction, California Book Awards. Clearly his book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, which looks at the period from the battle of New Orleans to the end of the Mexican-American War, is a must-read.  Below he tells us about his must-read. Read his other OUPblog posts here.

My favorite children’s book is The Little Engine That Could. I understand that there have been several versions of the story, but the one my parents read to me as a little boy was published by Platt & Monk in 1930 and attributed to Watty Piper, which I have learned was a pseudonym.

The story tells how a locomotive carrying toys and food for children breaks down and seeks help from other engines to carry its cargo “over the mountain.” Several engines refuse to help because they are too self-important, too discouraged, or otherwise unmotivated. Then a little switch engine comes along eager to help. Although the smallest and most inexperienced of the locomotives, she succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain by dint of trying hard and positive thinking.

The story teaches at least two valuable moral lessons: It is important to help someone in need, and hard work with a positive attitude can compensate for physical disadvanges. Many other features combine to make this a perfect story for young children. While the vocabulary is simple, the story is told in poetic language, with lines that virtually scan. Children readily identify with the anthropomorphized dolls, toys, and locomotives. There is considerable verbal repetition as one engine after another is interviewed and refuses help. Children readily memorize the story. It actually helped me learn how read, because after I had the story memorized, I connected the words I knew with the printed symbols on the page.

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