“THREE LITTLE ENGINES”

Have you ever asked yourself “How did I end up here?” “What experiences and circumstances have led to where I am right now?” Bob McKinnon believes these are the most important questions we can ask ourselves and the mere act of reflection will lead to a better society for us all. Bob is host of the Attribution With Bob McKinnon podcast which is distributed by PBS Chasing The Dream, director of the non-profit Moving Up Media and author of the new book “Three Little Engines” which is a modern retelling of the beloved childhood classic “The Little Engine That Could.” Tonight he joins us as part of our Chasing The Dream initiative to explore the concepts of social mobility and inequality in a manner with which young children can identify.

For more information on “Three Little Engines,” click here.

Aired on July 15, 2021.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME.

I'M JACK FORD.

SO HAVE YOU EVER ASKED YOURSELF JUST HOW DID I GET HERE?

WHAT ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES AND EXPERIENCES THAT HAVE LED TO WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW.

OUR NEXT GUEST BELIEVES THAT ASKING YOURSELVES THOSE QUESTIONS ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS WE CAN DO AND THAT THE MERE ACT OF REFLECTING ON THOSE QUESTIONS WILL LEAD TO A BETTER SOCIETY FOR ALL OF US.

THE DIRECTOR OF THE NONPROFIT MOVING UP MEDIA LAB AND HOST OF A PODCAST WHICH IS DISTRIBUTED BY PBS CHASING THE DREAM.

HIS LATEST BOOK IS A MODERN RETELLING OF A BELOVED CLASSIC, THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD.

IT EXPLAINS INEQUALITY IN A WAY THAT CHILDREN CAN UNDERSTAND.

IT IS PART OF OUR CHASING THE DREAM OF POVERTY AND EQUAL JUSTICE IN AMERICA.

THANKS FOR JOINING US.

THANKS, JACK.

I WANT TO SHOW THE BOOK TO FOLKS.

IT IS A MARVELOUS WORK.

THE COLORS AND IMAGES ADD TO THE MESSAGE YOU ARE GIVING HERE.

SO AS I MENTIONED, IT IS A MODERN RETELLING OR RETAKE ON THAT CLASSIC 'THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD.'

WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO DO THAT.

AS YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR INTRODUCTION I HAVE BEEN ASKING HOW DID I END UP HERE ALL OF MY LIFE, BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY.

ALONG THAT JOURNEY I WAS INTRODUCED TO FASCINATING RESEARCH FROM COLUMBIA, UNIVERSITY.

IF YOU HAVE EVER GONE OUT FOR A RUN, YOU ARE MORE AWARE OF THE WIND BLOWING IN YOUR FACE THAN AT YOUR BACK.

I HAD MET HIM THROUGH A MUTUAL CONNECTION AND HE FORWARDED ME AN ARTICLE THAT WAS WRITTEN ABOUT HIS WORK BY A NEW YORKER.

AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE SHE ASKS WHAT HE DOES IN HIS OWN LIFE TO REFLECT RESEARCH.

HE RESPONDS I DON'T READ 'THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD' TO MY KIDS.

I HAVE ALWAYS HATED THAT BOOK.

SOME ENGINES CAN'T AND IT'S NOT FAIR.

I THOUGHT THAT SOUNDED A LITTLE HARSH.

I HAD READ IT AND LOVED IT AND HAD A COPY FOR MY KIDS.

I SAW A LITTLE BIT WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT WHEN I REREAD IT.

SO I WANTED TO TELL A STORY THAT WAS LESS ABOUT I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN, BUT WAS MORE ABOUT I THINK WE CAN, I THINK WE CAN, BELIEVING IN EACH OTHER.

THIS IS SO WONDERFUL.

I MENTIONED TO YOU THAT WE HAD OUR 15-MONTH-OLD LITTLE GRANDSON THIS WEEKEND.

WE READ IT TO HIM.

AT HIS AGE HE'S LOVING THE COLORS AND TEXTURES.

WE HAVE OUR 6 AND 3-YEAR-OLD GRANDSONS COMING THIS WEEKEND AND WE WANT TO READ IT TO HIM.

HOW DID YOU CHANGE THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD INTO THREE LITTLE ENGINES.

IT'S A PREQUEL OR ORIGIN STORY.

NOW IT'S THEIR LAST DAY OF ENGINE SCHOOL AND THEY HAVE TO GET OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

YOU SEE FROM THE BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATIONS HOW DIFFERENT THEIR TRACKS ARE.

YOU ARE ABLE TO SEE THIS MIGHT BE DIFFERENT FROM THE ORIGINAL.

THE LITTLE BLUE ENGINE GOES ABOUT HER JOURNEY AND HAS STRUGGLES, I THINK I CAN, I THINK I CAN AND MAKES IT OVER.

BUT THE OTHER TWO ENGINES HAVE STRUGGLES.

BUT WHAT IS IN THEIR WAY IT MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO GET OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

AT FIRST HER REACTION IS WHY DID THEY STOP?

DID THEY QUIT.

HER TEACHER OLD RUSTY ENGINE ASKS QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW HER JOURNEY WAS AND HOW IT MIGHT BE DIFFERENT FROM HER FRIEND.

THERE IS A WONDERFUL MOMENT WHERE IT SAYS AFTER ASKING THESE QUESTIONS SHE SITS QUIETLY AND REFLECTS AND REALIZES THAT HER JOURNEY WAS DIFFERENT FROM HER FRIENDS AND THEN ASKS IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO TO HELP AND THEN SAYS I THINK WE CAN, I THINK WE CAN, GOING BACK UP THE MOUNTAIN TO HELP.

YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO DIMINISH THE POSITIVE THINKING AND HARD WORK.

I AM IN NO WAY TRYING TO DO THAT.

IN THE BOOK IS SAYS WE WORK HARD AND RECOGNIZE IT AND IT SHOULD BE CELEBRATED.

IT IS MORE THIS NOTION OF WE SHOULD ALL HAVE JOURNEYS.

WE SHOULD SEE HOW OUR JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS.

IT IS HONORING THE CLASSIC AND THE IDEA OF 'I THINK I CAN' AND ADDING A LAYER TO IT.

THAT'S A GOOD WAY TO LOOK AT IT.

IT'S ADDING TO IT, NOT LOOKING TO DIMINISH FROM IT.

WHEN YOU PUT TOGETHER SOMETHING LIKE THIS, HOW MUCH DO YOU DRAW FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES IN ORDER TO PUT DOWN IN THESE BEAUTIFUL IMAGES AND MESSAGES WHAT YOU WANT PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND?

ALL OF THIS WORK IS IN MY OWN EXPERIENCE.

I GREW UP IN A TOWN OUTSIDE BOSTON CALLED CHELSEA WHICH IS THE BIRTHPLACE OF THE ORIGINAL 'RATION TO RICHES' AUTHOR.

THEN WE MOVED TO RURAL PENNSYLVANIA AND LIVED IN TRAILER PARKS YOU HAVE MOST OF MY LIFE MY MOM WAS A SINGLE MOTHER.

I HAVE HAD SUCCESS ON A LOT OF LEVELS.

AND I KNOW PEOPLE WHO I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH WHO HAVE DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT OUTCOMES.

I KNOW THEY DID NOT WORK LESS HARD THAN I DID IN THEIR JOBS AND CAREERS.

IT'S CURIOUS TO KNOW WHAT IS DRIVING THESE DIFFERENT OUTCOMES.

THE TWO THINGS THAT WERE FASCINATING TO ME IS THERE IS AN INCREASING BODY OF WHAT HELPS KIDS MOVE UP, LIKE A PARTICULAR PARENT WHO BUFFERS YOU AROUND FROM THE DIFFICULT THINGS YOU MAY EXPERIENCE.

BUT THERE IS ALSO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF WHAT WE THINK ABOUT HOW WE END UP IN LIFE.

I WAS RAISED BY A SINGLE MOTHER.

FOUR CHILDREN.

I WAS FORTUNATE TO HAVE TEACHERS AND COACHES IN MY LIFE THAT PROVIDED GUIDANCE, THE ABILITY TO WORK HARD, HELP YOU GET AROUND OBSTACLES THERE.

GOT ME TO COLLEGE.

I LOOK BACK ON ALL OF THESE THINGS.

I SEE SOME FRIENDS OF MINE THAT DIDN'T GET THAT.

AND MAY WELL NOT HAVE GOTTEN TO WHERE THEY WANTED TO BE IN THEIR LIVES.

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR US TO REFLECT ON THOSE NOTIONS OF SOCIAL MOBILITY AND EXPERIENCES THAT HAVE HELPED US GET WHERE WE ARE.

I THINK THERE ARE A COUPLE OF REASONS.

IF WE DON'T WE HAVE A TENDENCY TO PREJUDGE.

WE JUDGE OUR OWN SUCCESS, OUTCOMES OF OTHERS AND MAY DO SO HARSHLY AT TIMES.

RESEARCH WILL TELL YOU WHEN YOU REFLECT ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE AND REALIZE THERE MAY BE OTHER FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY THAT YOU MAY BE MORE GRATEFUL, APPRECIATIVE AND MORE SUPPORTIVE OF OTHERS WHO MAY BE HAVING STRUGGLES YOU DID OR DIDN'T EXPERIENCE.

I KNOW OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST TEN YEARS THERE HAS BEEN IMPORTANCE PAID TO EMPATHY IN OUR CULTURE.

WE WANT TO PUT OURSELVES IN THE SHOES OF OTHER PEOPLE.

BUT I WORK AROUND AT BUGS WHICH IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND HOW YOU ARE WEARING YOUR SHOES IN THE FIRST PLACE.

IT IS A PRECURSOR TO EMPATHY AND SUPPORTING OTHERS AND LEADS TO A HAPPIER AND MORE GRATEFUL LIFE TO THOSE WHO DO IT.

YOU HAVE DONE ALL SORTS OF THINGS, LOOKING INTO SOCIAL ISSUES.

NOW YOU ARE DOING CHILDREN BOOKS.

CONTRARY TO WHAT YSOME MAY THIN, CHILDREN'S BOOK DOESN'T MEAN YOU ARE DUMG DOWN.

HOW DO YOU PUT TOGETHER A CHILDREN'S BOOK AND THEN MARRYING IT WITH THE IMAGES THAT ARE SO IMPORTANT.

I READ THE BOOK AND TRIED TO UNDERSTAND THE CHARACTERS AND WHAT THAT LOOKED LIKE.

I STILL HAVE IT.

I HAVE A JOURNAL IN MY BEDSIDE AND I PULLED IT OUT AND WROTE THE ORIGINAL DRAFT OF THE BOOK.

I HAVE THREE YOUNG CHILDREN SO I READ IT TO THEM AND SAID YOU ARE THE EXPERTS HERE.

THAT COULD BE A REAL TOUGH AUDIENCE.

THE TOUGHEST AUDIENCE.

THEY WERE REALLY SUPPORTIVE.

THEN I WAS FORTUNATE TO GET CONNECTED, LUCK IN FORTUNE, IN OUR TOWN WITH A WELL RESPECTED ILLUSTRATOR BY THE NAME OF ED YOUNG.

HE THOUGHT THERE WAS SOMETHING IN IT.

THEN I HAD TO GO THROUGH THE PROCESS -- SOME PEOPLE SAID YOU MAY HAVE INTELLECTUAL RIGHTS ISSUES.

SO I CALLED PENGUIN.

CHILDREN'S PUBLISHING IS NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GET INTO.

I SENT AN E-MAIL.

MONTHS WENT BY.

SENT ANOTHER E-MAIL.

THEY SAID SEND US YOUR MANUSCRIPT AND WE WILL CHECK IT OUT.

MONTHS WENT BY AND FINALLY GOT ON THE PHONE WITH SOMEBODY.

AND I THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO TELL ME I COULDN'T DO IT OR MAKE IT MORE OR LESS LIKE THE ORIGINAL.

THEY SAID THE 90th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ORIGINAL IS COMING AROUND AND WE HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR A MORE RELEVANT ISSUE.

THE EDITORS, WHEN I STARTED THE ORIGINAL DRAFT, IT WAS THEY ARE GOING OVER THIS MOUNTAIN, WHY ARE THEY GOING OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

THERE WAS THAT GRADUATION PROCESS.

BUT TAKING TOPICS FROM SOCIAL SCIENCE AND DRILLING IT DOWN INTO SOMETHING WAS CHOICEFUL IN MAKING SURE WE WERE ALLOWING HER CHOICES RATHER THAN TELLING HER WHAT TO THINK.

SO IT WAS A FOUR-YEAR JOURNEY OVER THIS MOUNTAIN WITH ITS OWN TWISTS AND TURNS.

WITH YOUR OWN OBSTACLES.

AS I MENTIONED BEFORE, I HAD A CHANCE WITH MY SON, HIS SON, HIS 15-MONTH OLD, AND THIS WEEKEND WE HAVE OUR 3 AND 6-YEAR-OLD GRANDSONS COMING.

I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO WHAT THEIR REACTIONS WILL BE TO SITTING DOWN AND READING THIS ALL WITH THEM.

AS I MENTIONED BEFORE IT'S CALLED 'THREE LITTLE ENGINES.'

IT'S A MODERN AND IMPORTANT RETELLING OF THE CLASSIC 'THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD.'

AND HOW FORTUITOUS THAT YOU CAME UP WITH THE IDEA.

IT'S A GREAT BOOK FOR ANYBODY TO READ, EVEN ADULTS.

BOB, THANKS FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US.

BE WELL.

THANKS FOREHAVING ME ON, JACK.

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