Bethany Biron
Updated Jun 04, 2016 @ 10:24 am
Credit: Platt & Munk

Growing up, The Little Engine That Could was a source of childhood inspiration. That tiny blue engine defied all odds and pulled her fellow toy trains up and over the mountain to the boys and girls waiting for them.

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” became my life mantra. And now the tale is even better because we’ve confirmed that the engine in the popular children’s book written by Watty Piper is a lady.

That’s right, a girl. What makes it even better is the fact that she prevailed, even after three male trains all passed by and refused to help her up the mountain.

The revelation was shared by Roy Plotnick, a paleontologist at the University of Illinois of Chicago, who has been studying the storied history of the tale for the past decade, in an attempt to glean insight into its meaning.

In an interview with NPR in 2014, Plotnick elucidated the hidden feminist allegory in the story, noting that the engine expressed a barrage of self-deprecation and doubt before rising to the occasion, reflecting gender mores of the time.

The confusion lies in the number of alternative versions that depict the original female engine as a male. Others have speculated that there was a gender change to make the story more politically correct, but Plotnick affirms she was always a girl.

Francesco Sedita, president of the Penguin division, told NPR that the engine was truly an early 20th century feminist hero .

“She was literally the first to lean in! She really is the poster engine of the can-do attitude,” Sedita said.