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  • What about Bob?

    This website features the work of Bob McKinnon. He is a writer, designer, podcast host, children’s author and teacher. What unites all of his work is the desire to help others move up in life – just as others have helped him.

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  • Three Little Engines

    New York Times’ best seller Three Little Engines, a  modern retelling of the beloved classic Little Engine that Could, is now available in Spanish!

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  • NPR Special Program

    On the 50th anniversary of The Piano Man, Bob interviewed Billy Joel to discuss his contributions to our ideas of struggle and success in America.

    The Piano Man at 50
  • New Series

    Check out Moving Up in Communities, our new  series sharing stories of innovation and advancement in communities across the country. This series is supported by the journalism nonprofit Economic Hardship Reporting Project

    Fast Company Moving Up in Communiities
Three Little Engines

From Bob McKinnon comes this modern retelling of the beloved classic, Little Engine that Could, that asks young readers, “How does your journey differ from others?” It also serves as a thank you letter to all the parents, teachers, role models, and even strangers, who help to clear the storm or pull the tree trunk from their track.

Available in your favorite bookstores.

How did you end up here?

Have you ever asked yourself this question?  Or wondered why your life turned differently than you expected or from others you know.  On this site, you’ll find tools, writing and podcast episodes that explores this question and others.  Watch Bob’s TEDx talk to learn about his journey and the science behind how we see our lives and those of others.

Children’s Books

I think I can, I think I can, I think I… can’t?  What’s an Engine to do when even believing in yourself won’t get you to the top of the mountain? In this modern retelling of the beloved The Little Engine That Could, The Little Blue Engine and her friends attempt to reach the town on the other side of the mountain, but they quickly realize that not every engine is on the same track, and they all face different obstacles in their journey. In Three Little Engines author Bob McKinnon asks young readers: How does your journey differ from others?

While paying homage to the beloved classic, author Bob McKinnon acknowledges that although positive thinking and confidence are important, they are not always enough to help you succeed. In many instances, success requires a helping hand. This book is a gentle introduction to the idea of socioeconomic mobility and inequality in America. Heavily inspired by his own experiences, McKinnon teaches the youngest of readers how to recognize opportunity and inequality in the American Dream, and, most importantly, how to extend a helping hand to those on different tracks of life. At its heart, Three Little Engines is a thank you letter to all the parents, teachers, role models, and even strangers, who help to clear the storm or pull the tree trunk from your track.

Three Little Engines is now a New York Times best seller!  Order your copy today from your favorite online bookseller or your local bookstore:

 

What is Your American Dream Score

What is Your American Dream Score?

Spend five minutes taking this quiz, and you’ll find out what factors were working in your favor and what you had to overcome to get where you are today. At the end, you’ll receive an overall score and a personalized summary of the results (and probably a big dose of pride and gratitude).

Newsletter

Beggars

Imagine a young girl in a classroom. Because her family has little money she shows up to class with no school supplies and asks the teacher for a pencil. The teacher obliges but hands her a pencil with no eraser. When the girl simply requests a different pencil with an eraser, the teacher declines, saying “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Brittany Means was that little girl and she has now gone on to author her first book, Hell if We Don’t Change our Ways. When she recounted that story to me recently, we both wondered aloud about the origin of that phrase. It apparently dates back five hundred years ago to a time before there was any organized state support for people who had less. It was an admonishment to be grateful for whatever was given because at least you were being given something.

I’m sure I have used that phrase many times before without considering its uncaring origin or the potential for its cruel use – as in the case of the little girl who had the audacity to want a pencil with an eraser like all of the other children.

I began to interrogate the phrase in my mind and wondered why beggars should not be choosers. Should a person who is homeless when considering where to sleep have a choice beyond a bench or a shelter that is not safe? Shouldn’t any mother be able to choose a healthy option to feed her children rather than the cheapest alternative that allows her money to go further?

I don’t remember much from my algebra class but the transitive law is one that we would all do well to remind ourselves of from time to time. Simply put it goes like this, “if a=b and b=c then a must equal c.”

What does that have to do with beggars?  Well finish the statements below.

If all people should have a safe place to sleep and beggars are people, then beggars should….

Or if all people should have access to healthy food and poor mothers are people, then poor mothers should…

And of course, if all children should have pencils with erasers and Brittany was a child, then Brittany should…. have had access to a pencil with an eraser.

While most people would agree to all the above in principle (and many similar formulations), in practice we often fall short.

We can scornfully question why someone doesn’t have a home, a meal or a pencil or judge them as undeserving. In the process we dismiss the simple math right in front of us, complicating the equation with the noise of our own biases or assumptions.

Should you find yourself in such a situation, try recasting the formulation using a first person pronoun. For example:

If all people should have a safe place to sleep and I am a person, then I should have a safe place to sleep, or

If all people should have access to healthy food and my mother is a person, then my mother should have access to healthy food.

Solving the “how” to do this isn’t always as simple as handing a kid a better pencil but agreeing on the underlying premise or problem shouldn’t be complicated.

As they say, the math doesn’t lie.


See all posts from Moving Up Mondays blog

Monday Morning Notes

Delivered to your mailbox each Monday morning, these short notes offer an opportunity each week to reflect on who and what contributes to where we end up in life. Readers tell us it’s a great way to start their week on a positive note. See the latest note below:

Beggars

Imagine a young girl in a classroom. Because her family has little money she shows up to class with no school supplies and asks the teacher for a pencil. The teacher obliges but hands her a pencil with no eraser. When the girl simply requests a different pencil with an eraser, the teacher declines, saying …

Continue reading

Attribution with Bob McKinnon

Attribution is a podcast, where people from all walks of life, reflect on who and what has contributed to where they ended up. Our hope is after each episode, you feel a little more inspired, grateful, or supported, then when you first hit play. Check out the latest episode below:

The Piano Man at 50

Fifty years ago, a performer called Bill Martin wrote a song about his experience playing in a bar. He introduced us to people he met there. A waitress who’s practicing politics, a real estate novelist who never had time for a wife, among others. They are sharing a drink they called loneliness, which as the song affirms is better than drinking alone.

Bill Martin was the stage name for Billy Joel and the song is, of course, Piano Man.

As Joel’s famed residency at Madison Square Garden comes to a close and a new exhibit looking at his legacy opens at Long Island Museum and Entertainment Hall of Fame’s Stony Brook museum, we reflect back on Joel’s contribution to our ideas of struggle and success in America.

Bob McKinnon, host of the podcast Attribution, talks to Josh Duchan an ethnomusicologist specializing in American popular music. He has published three books, including Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”: Billy Joel and Popular Music Studies. You’ll also hear from the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel.

For more information on Piano Man @ 50 and the resources mentioned in this program, please visit:

Joshua Duchan

Billy Joel:  America’s Piano Man

We Didn’t Start the Fire: Billy Joel and Popular Music Studies

Billy Joel

Billy Joel: My Life, A Piano Man’s

Journey @ The Long Island Music $ Entertainment Hall of Fame

The Piano Man @ 50 is a WLIW-FM special program distributed in partnership with Chasing the Dream, a public media initiative from The WNET Group, reporting on poverty, justice, and economic opportunity in America. You can learn more at pbs.org/chasingthedream. Major funding for Chasing the Dream is provided by The JPB Foundation.