[ Take another look ]
Mr Gumpy is going to take his boat out. The children want to come along, so does the cat, and the dog, the sheep, the goat, the pig… all come aboard on the proviso that they ‘BEHAVE’. Eventually the boat is very full – and of course, they ‘don’t’ behave. The boat tips and… KERSPLASH! Into the water they go – What fun!
In this illustration we see a tableau that might have been set up from the toy box. The figures look familiar and well rehearsed, evenly placed around the central boat, their out-stretched arms repeated for dramatic effect. Only the sheep which looks like it might have landed moments earlier (was it her that tipped the boat?) is without a splash and looks resigned to the predicament she finds herself in, is moving off to dry ground…
And into the water they go, as the mild Mr Gumpy is capsized by the badly behaved animals who make mayhem in his boat
Mr Gumpy’s Outing marks a significant stylistic break with Burningham’s earlier books for children. Where once a succession of evenly paced events separated the beginning of a story from the end, now the pages build momentum steadily toward some ‘inevitable’ climactic event. And gone is the bold, painterly style of Borka or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, replaced now with finely worked crosshatching and subtle colour washes. Slow work, employed in the careful construction of key moments, each one an opportunity for pause and reflection: the heavily laden boat, the inevitable capsizing, the triumphant supper at the end of the book. We are invited to dwell on each.
These illustrations are not designed to move the story on quickly, to flick past, but reward further investigation with significant, often unexpected detail and flourishes of wit and personality much like the biblical events depicted on church walls by painters of the past.
Mr Gumpy’s Outing was published by Jonathon Cape in 1970. With it John Burningham became the first artist ever to win England’s Kate Greenaway Medal twice (First for Borka in 1965). And in 1972 it won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and made the American Library Association’s Notable Children’s Book list.