• Happy birthday Graham Salisbury (Under the Blood-Red Sun) and April Pulley Sayre (Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out!).
  • It’s the birth date of Felix Hoffmann (1911-1975), Hans in Luck.
  • In 1899, Spain cedes Puerto Rico to the United States. Read The Golden Flower: A Taino Myth from Puerto Rico by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez; Shake It, Morena! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by Lulu Delacre; and Juan Bobo Goes to Workretold by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Joe Cepeda.
  • In 1954, this was the “most boring day in history,” since 1900. Read Tony Fucille’s Let’s Do Nothing.
  • It’s Barbershop Quartet Day. Read Uncle Jed’s Barbershop by Margaree King Mitchell, illustrated by James Ransome.

Today,  I want to talk about two of our classic books for babies and toddlers. As Julie Roach, Manager of Youth Services of the Cambridge (MA) Public Library, has told me on many occasions, the best titles for this age group include a text with few words that encourages participation and simple images and plots that appeal to the very young.

Roach says, “Toddler boys love books with truck imagery.” Kids this age have an impressive vocabulary—“That’s the excavator!” —and they like to prove it. So if you are trying to impress one of those boys, you can do no better than pick up Donald Crews’s Freight Train. Crews used his extensive background in graphic design to fashion a book with sophisticated images but a very simple text, a mere fifty-five words. All the train cars have been given a name and a different color, and then readers watch the train move over trestles and by cities,. When Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow Books first looked through the initial layout of this book, which won a Caldecott Honor, she felt an enormous degree of tension. The book looked almost perfect, and yet without the right ending, she knew it would fail. Hence when she came to the final words—“going, going, gone”—she felt the book was complete and knew it would work for the very youngest train enthusiast. It also presents simple concepts like color, color spectrum, and light—not to mention the parts of a train.

One of the best books for babies and toddlers, Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, published in 1971, was created by John Burningham, England’s premier artist for young children. Our hero, Mr. Gumpy travels along a river on a boat, picking up animals and children who promise to make no trouble for him. Of course, they can’t help being themselves, and eventually the whole crew ends up in the river. But all ends happily, as everyone heads out to a sumptuous high tea.

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham is the ideal participation book for the very young—and can be acted out by a parent or child, or with a group of children, with ease. The story has a predictable sequence—“‘May I come please, Mr. Gumpy?’ said the pig. ‘Very well, but don’t muck about.’” Children want to join in, and gain confidence as they do. For the art Burningham balances brown pen sketches with brilliant full-color art. He has paced the text and art brilliantly. Even after readers know the outcome, they still enjoy watching the story unfold.

The ultimate artist, Burningham remains true to his belief that the best children’s books include as much for the parents as they do for children. Hence adults also love this book and its sequel, Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car. At the end of Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, Mr. Gumpy invites us to come again for a ride some other day. I myself have loved every repeat trip on this boat—and so do children.

Here’s a page from Mr. Gumpy’s Outing:

Originally posted April 11, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Award Winning, Caldecott, Trains, Transportation
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  1. Liz says:

    Hi Anita, Just discovered your blog. We looooove Mr. Gumpy!

  2. Jessica says:

    I adore this book! I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to meet John Burningham at last year’s Horn Book awards and I made sure to bring my copy for him to sign. Thanks for including my favorite line, “Very well, but don’t muck about!” A classic to be sure.

  3. Tom Angleberger says:

    I never thought about the tension of Freight Train before, but,YES, that ending does let it roll away.

  4. Erika says:

    This was one of our favorites! My daughter loved to have us read the page where they’re all misbehaving *very* quickly–like you’re rolling down a hill. “And SPLASH! They all fell into the river.”

    I think I need to dig out our copy now…

  5. Autumn says:

    This is one of those books I did not discover until I was an adult. I loved it every bit as much as I probably would have as a child. A definite must for both parents and children!

  6. Jory says:

    I agree that Freight Train is a practically perfect book, simple and striking and so memorable. And I think it works as well in board book format as in a larger size, which isn’t always the case — this is a book I love to sell, and I did have a little girl ask for “Inside Freight Train” a few days ago at the bookstore, so while less common, it’s not only for boys!

  7. Vicki says:

    Freight Train is one of my favorite books ever. As a train fanatic, it’s one of my favorite baby shower gifts. There are a few raised eyebrows and then I get the thank you card a year or two later: “We appreciate this book so much. I can’t tell you what it’s meant to our family.” Just so.

  8. Thank you for highlighting one of my favorite picture books! One of the outstanding elements of this book is the simple, yet varied vocabulary. Each time Mr. Gumpy tells the children and then the animals that they may join him in his boat, he varies the word choice. For example, the children are not to “squabble,” the pig is not to “muck about,” the calf is not to “tramble about,” etc. Of course, at the end, the boat tips because the children and the animals do exactly what Mr. Gumpy requested them not to do! However, Mr. Gumpy is a gentle soul, and they are all invited to a scrumptious looking tea.

  9. Tess W. says:

    John Burmingham, I so much enjoy looking at your illustrations! I feel like I’m feeling the warm summer air and smelling the fresh scent of grass. The pictures are so physical I feel like I’m part of the action and like I could reach into the picture and tip Mr. Gumpy’s boat (or car ^_^) over! And I love reading about Mr. Gumpy’s hilarious friends, who are always causing all kinds of trouble. Thank you for such wonderful stories! My students thank you, too!

  10. beth says:

    Oh my goodness, we knew and loved Mr Gumpy’s Motorcar, and I had no idea there was more Mr Gumpy books. Thanks for letting us know!

  11. Diane says:

    I haven’t read Mr. Gumpy’s Outing in years, but I remember how perfectly the pacing of the prose and plot matched the slow but steady rowing of the riverboat. A wonderful ride for everyone in the family, just as Mr. Burmingham hoped it would be.

  12. Bookjeannie says:

    When I read this last year, I ordered it immediately for my grandson Henry. I didn’t realize it was a big book. What fun!

  13. suzi w. says:

    it’s funny how one doesn’t discover books that weren’t around as a child. Since I was overseas for most of my childhood, even though I was born in 1971. I have oft looked at this book, but never read it.

  14. Cathy Ogren says:

    I agree. MR. GUMPY’S OUTING is a wonderful book to share with children.

  15. Susan says:

    Love this book; always a favorite read for storytime.

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