Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is a nostalgic children's book that has entertained generations of readers since it was penned in 1939. It's only fitting that this story about beating obsolescence with perseverance and pluck should find its way onto CD-ROM. The computer version of this classic contains an adaptation of the book, four activities, and a tutorial on the life and work of Virginia Lee Burton, the book's writer and illustrator.
This classic survives the move from the printed page to the computer screen admirably. Burton's illustrations remain intact, and though animation is added, it doesn't detract from the sunny simplicity of the original book. Fans of the original will probably be disappointed by the text, however. Burton wove her text around her illustrations--the words added visual life to the story. On the CD-ROM the text is relegated to its usual ho-hum spot, below the illustration.
The four activities in Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel are afterthoughts. There's a memory and matching game where the good citizens of Popperville come out, dance a jig, then hide behind trees and bushes. Kids must click on the hiding places and uncover the hiders, then match them up with their "twins," after which another little jig is danced. The How a Steam Shovel Works tutorial is a glorified illustration: click on a word and hear it as the appropriate part of the steam shovel wiggles or flashes. A game called The Junkyard lets kids find and piece together steam shovels using pattern recognition. Finally, in Mary Anne's Maze, kids follow directional arrows and a map to find their way out of a maze whose denizens have random demands that must be met (give the rabbit a carrot, the businessman a slice of pie, the skunk a daisy) before they'll allow passage. Even though each activity has three levels of difficulty, they don't change appreciably, and all but the youngest of kids will quickly tire of them.
The most exceptional part of this CD-ROM is for parents, or for older kids who need to do a book report on Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. The beautifully crafted section on the life and work of Virginia Lee Burton contains photographs, unpublished illustrations, and a wealth of information about Mike Mulligan's creator, all lovingly narrated by her two sons. This kids' program was obviously designed with an eye towards the grownups who read this book back in the '40s and '60s, which accounts for both its strength and its weakness. (Ages 4 to 8) --Anne Erickson