This is the first time that the 'Little Engine' has been published as a deluxe picture book. For this reason alone, it is unfair to compare it to the previous editions. The older editions are illustrated with small, simple, colored line drawings rather than lavish, full-page, full-color paintings.
Long's illustrations are beautiful and, in my opinion, suit the story better than the old ones did. As I child, I was never quite sure if the clown and dolls were toys or people. Long's illustration makes them obviously toys.
Long's illustrations give the different locomotives distinct looks and personalities. The original illustrations for both previous editions of the book have locomotives that are virtually identical, except for being different colors. The passenger engine in Long's illustration is a sleek, streamlined design with an arrogant, sneering expression, while the freight engine is a massive, dark iron, whale-like machine that looms over and peers down at the tiny clown.
It's unfortunate that the review from the School Library Journal was chosen by Amazon for the Editorial Reviews, above. I'd like to correct some errors - the writer has her facts wrong about the history of this book.
What Burg believes to be the original edition of the book is, in fact, the 1954 edition with illustrations by George and Doris Hauman. Although Burg praises the '1930s' look of these illustrations with the green poka-dotted clown, they scream '1950s!'. While most people today are familiar with this version, I think the older illustrations are showing their age, and I believe children today will relate better to Long's paintings. Also, as I have stated above, I believe Long's illustrations help tell the story better.
The actual 1930s illustrations were colored line drawings by Lois Lenski, and few people today will have seen them. Interestingly, those illustrations show the story taking place in a stark, snow-covered winter landscape.
Burg claims Loren Long's paintings have a '1950s' look. Anyone familiar with painting styles of the 1930s will recognize the influence of painters like Grant Wood on Long's style. Long's illustrations are much truer to the 1930s than the 1954 illustrations are.
I am a friend of Loren Long's, and I know how hard he worked on these illustrations and how much this book meant to him. These paintings were a labor of love.