Mr Gumpy’s Rhino

My Gumpy’s Rhino
John Burningham
Jonathan Cape

John Burningham died at the beginning of this year and the subject of this final book was one that deeply concerned him. There’s the old Burningham humour in the story but underlying it is a serious message about animal conservation, in particular the plight of the rhinos in Africa.

Last seen driving his motor car in the early 1970s Mr Gumpy is on his travels in Africa when he finds something distressing: a baby rhinoceros that has been left parentless on account of poachers taking their horns.

Knowing the young animal needs milk the kindly protagonist gives it what he has

and buys what he can from the Bedouins but it’s not sufficient for the growing rhino that he calls Charlie.

There’s plenty of milk available once they board a boat, as well as greenery

but once on dry land back home, Mr Gumpy struggles to get sufficient food for the rapidly growing Charlie.

Children at the local primary school suggest the animal might work for the council, keeping the grass and wayside verges under control, an idea that Mr Gumpy wholeheartedly endorses.
Consequently Charlie is given a high vis vest and special road sign, both of which please him considerably.

To show his appreciation, when the children’s school trip is threatened Charlie charges over land and even into the sea to enable them to catch the already departed boat. Hurrah!

This, with its mix of wonderful grainy coloured images and line drawings is vintage Burningham brilliance. Only he could make the baby rhino so appealing a character: who wouldn’t be moved by the sight of him shedding tears over the loss of his parents.

Destined to join the other Mr Gumpy stories as a modern classic, this is a wonderful way to introduce the very young to the topics of endangered creatures and animal conservation.

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