Bill the tugboat and Mabel the barge are friends on the Hudson River. The fancier and bigger ships actually insult Mabel, calling her "silly stupid and (gasp!) boring." Even though Mabel and Bill pretend not to hear it, they do. But when Mabel saves a kitten who falls into the river and becomes a hero featured in the newspaper, suddenly those vain ships are wishing they were more like that lowly barge.
This story offers a lesson on appreciating others and about how helping others is a good thing. It could also be used in a lesson on adjectives. The words describing the river, Boris (Bill's sleepy captain), Mabel, and the other ships are great examples to pull from. Of course, the brightly colored illustrations and the successful rescue of the kitten make it a good read-aloud for the very young - especially those already fascinated by boats.