Yes, its true -- I dreaded the nights (night after night after night) when one of my sons would insist we read this book! Why? Because it's long, and detailed -- good for the child, terrible for a weary parent. My boys memorized the story, and if I ever tried to skip a page, I was found out and the missing page was revisited.
This book is a great gift to give to any child who is enthralled with heavy machinery, but there's more to it than that. At the time the story is written (1939) Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne, his steam shovel, are becoming outdated. They used to be busy in the big city, making basements for big buildings. But as always happens, something better - faster, more efficient gas, electric and Diesel shovels - is replacing them.
Mike Mulligan knows they still have value. He's always told people that Mary Anne could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week, though he's never been quite sure this is true.
To find work, he ventures into the country to the town of Popperville, where a new Town Hall is being built. Mike promises to build the cellar in just one day ("What!" said Henry B. Swap. "Dig a cellar in just one day! It would take a hundred men at least a week to dig the cellar for our new town hall." ) Henry and the townpeople are swayed when Mike promises that "If we can't do it, you won't have to pay."
The citizens of Bangerville and Bopperville, Kipperville and Kopperville plus all the people from Popperville come out to watch Mike and Mary Anne work hard under the hot sun. They finish the job as the sun sets, just in the nick of time.
One small boy has been watching them, and he asks a really good question - "How are they going to get out?" Mike was in such a hurry, he forgot to make a way to get Mary Anne out of the cellar.
Everyone tries to think of a solution, but it's that astute little boy who comes up with the best one. They decide to keep the Steam Shovel in the cellar, and build the town hall over them. Mike Mulligan can be the janitor, the steam shovel will keep the building warm in the winter, they won't have to buy a new furnace (Henry B. Swap really likes this frugal thought!) and everyone is happy.
The kids who read it especially like looking at all the tiny details in the pictures, but I think they especially like the small boy finding the solution that none of the adults can figure out.
In retrospect, I suppose it really wasn't that awful to have to read it again and again and again. I've got the original hardcover in hand, waiting for the grandkids!
Definitely worth buying the hardcover edition!