Mr Gumpy’s Outing – John Burningham

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 1 point. C liked it; I was less than awestruck.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points

Mr Gumpy’s Outing left me fairly unimpressed, which is unfortunate, because a number of Burningham’s other books are on my standard rotation for being awesome books to read with C. A couple of those will come up later in this project (as they’re on the 1001 Books list), so keep an eye out for that. But this one? Didn’t really do it for me.

No Bechdel, no diversity, this is definitely a very white British book with it’s old British dude, menagerie of very British animals, and a punt. I hasten to add, there’s nothing wrong with all of that in and of itself, but it’s not my background, so I guess I don’t get that nostalgic tingle that perhaps someone who grew up in 70s Britain might do. (The book was published in 1970.)

It does have a somewhat satisfying shape as a story – Mr Gumpy is approached by a variety of characters, starting with two children, followed by a range of animals, for a ride in his boat. Mr Gumpy kindly takes them all aboard with stern warnings about the behaviour he expects. The children are told not to squabble, the rabbit not to hop, etc. Needless to say, this is classic Chekov’s gun, and ultimately they all do what they were told not to and the boat capsizes and everyone ends up in the river. And then they go home for tea. Because what else would you do in 70s Britain after a boating accident? 😉

It has the kind of repetition that works well for kids’ books, and C was legitimately amused by the double spread of the boat falling over and everyone ending up in the water, but I was left fairly unmoved by it. It’s definitely no Oi! Get off our Train!, which is far and away my favourite Burningham, and which I will get to at some point even though it’s not on the ‘official’ list.

As for Mr Gumpy, give it a go if you like that sort of thing. I think my lukewarm response probably says more about my taste than Mr Burningham’s story skills. I’m just not that taken with the whole pastoral British thing.

What do you think? Are you a Mr Gumpy fan? Or do you, like me, find this kind of nostalgic British stuff fairly dull?

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