Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham Analysis

Mr Gumpy’s Outing is a picture book for young readers who are still learning English — a variety of verbs are introduced in a way that will help toddlers to remember them.


This is a very enticing setting — a lot of picture book characters live on farms or in middle class suburbs but not many live so close to a river, in an emerald green rustic cottage such as this:

Another heavily green book is the wordless More! by Peter Schossow



This is Mr Gumpy.

Mr Gumpy owned a boat and his house was by a river.

We’re told nothing about this man’s shortcoming at the beginning of the story — we are left to see what that is for ourselves.

We learn that his shortcoming is that he’s a pushover. He shouldn’t have let all of those animals onto the boat if the aim was not to get wet!


Mr Gumpy (presumably) wants a nice day out on the river in his boat.


The opponents are all the creatures who want to join him, despite their tendency to engage in behaviours that lead to the sinking of small boats.


Mr Gumpy will let the animals and children onto the boat but if he warns them to behave well, everything will be all right.

Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham London Travel poster
Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham London Travel poster



There hasn’t necessarily been any revelation or learning taking place in this carnivalesque story; it in fact seems that Mr Gumpy knew exactly what would happen from the start, since each creature on the boat behaved exactly as he’d warned them not to!

Picture books are particularly well-suited to this kind of story, since they are read over and over again. The young reader can imagine that each reading is another separate incident which happens time and time again. This is partly what makes it funny.


There are no hard feelings; no consequences.

Then they all sit down to tea. I’m heartened to see that there’s no housewife at home who has prepared all of this for them while they’ve been away (and who will presumably wash all their clothes!) Or perhaps she’s presently in the kitchen…


Who Sank The Boat? by Pamela Allen

Pamela Allen’s tale has a definite Aesop quality to it, which tends to happen when you combine an idiomatic expression such as ‘the straw that breaks the camel’s back‘ with the characterisation from tales of old, in which the mouse is a tiny but noble creature who has more influence upon outcome than initially expected. As in Mr Gumpy’s outing, we have a group of animals who all get into a boat, and they all end up in the water (but from overloading rather than from misbehaviour).

There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed A Fly

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly

This is another tale with an emphasis on the sequencing of animals, resulting in an explosive climax. This cumulative structure comes straight from folktale, from stories such as The Musicians of Bremen, The Enormous Turnip and Chicken Licken.