I’m going to share with you my absolute favorite picture book. Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, by John Burningham.

It is a quiet, sweet, rhythmic book about a man who owned a boat and his house was by a river. The illustrations alternate between delicate pen-and-ink drawings so scratchy you can almost hear the etching, and lush, layered, color vignettes so evocative I sometimes get teary-eyed looking at them.

One of my fantasies is to hire an artist to reproduce all of the animal pieces on the walls of a nursery. Some watercolors, some pastels, some color ink. Each one more poignant than the next. And I would just sit in the lamplit room and cry and cry and cry with joy. Sigh.

First published in 1971, Mr. Gumpy’s Outing won the Kate Greenaway medal, which is the United Kingdom’s award for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. Essentially, the UK’s Caldecott. And alongside the illustrations the story is just as precious. It has a no-nonsense gentleness I readily associate with the UK.

“May I come, please, Mr. Gumpy?” said the pig.
“Very well, but don’t muck about.”

And it conveys its lesson with humor and not one trace of irritation. We can all learn something from kind, patient Mr. Gumpy. Especially as parents. If he can maintain his good humor in a small boat full of kids and animals, surely I can make it through dinner tonight!

Give yourself and your kids a treat this week and go find this book.


Credits: Written by Laurie Smithwick