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Gumble’s Yard

Author: John Rowe Townsend. Illustrated by Dick Hart.
Series: Puffin Story Book
Edition: 1971 reprint
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 142p. : ill.
Notes: John Rowe Townsend (1922-2014) was a British novelist and academic working in the area of children’s literature. Townsend wrote an important critical survey of children’s literature, Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children’s Literature (1965), among numerous other works on the subject. Gumble’s Yard is Townsend’s first novel for children and was first published in 1965. The book is considered an important landmark in British children’s literature, signalling a shift away from the presentation of happy family life often featured in children’s literature, to the grimmer realities of actual childhood (Gamble and Turner). The book’s inclusion in the Puffin Story Book series is also significant, signalling the willingness of the series to publish books that address some of the harsher realities of childhood and growing up. The novel is set in a dismal and dilapidated urban neighbourhood nicknamed ‘the Jungle’, and explores a short period in the lives of Kevin and Sandra, who live with their Uncle Walter, and his girlfriend Doris, along with their younger cousins Harold and Jean. The children’s fears of abandonment are realised when their Uncle leaves them, and not wanting to be separated, they devise a plan to stay in the dilapidated cottages in Gumble’s Yard, a bleak area near a disused canal. The children rename their new abode ‘the Homestead’ with a definitiveness that suggests a distinct absence in their lives. Though they manage well, fear pervades much of the book’s action. The first part of the book focuses on the mundane activities of creating their home and surviving. Sandra’s bravery and practicality is praised by Kevin and the narrative voice throughout, though the fact that she is locked in a cycle of poverty similar to her mother is also acknowledged. Kevin also bears much of the family’s burden. However, his storytelling, which distracts the children from their fears, offers him a creative outlet and a way of shaping the world (57-8). The children eventually come under the guidance of responsible and kind adults, Tony and Sheila, and their Uncle Bob. Once this adult influence is registered, the narrative appears to gain the freedom to introduce a more typical adventure narrative: the children catch thieves and Sandra in particular demonstrates great bravery. However, at the end of the novel, the children are not moved to a more caring and stable home, represented by Tony and Sheila, or Uncle Bob, but instead move back with their Uncle Walter and Doris, who they recognise as flawed adults, with their own problems. The book’s conclusion again underlines the fact that reversion to the family unit is not always the most optimistic solution, even in children’s books.
[Ciara Gallagher].
Gamble, Nikki and Turner, Nick. Family Fictions: Anne Fine, Morris Gleitzmann, Jacqueline Wilson and others. London and New York: Continuum, 2001.
Subject: Genre, Gender, Childhood, Adventure, Poverty, Urban, Adult-Child Relationships, Fear, Home, ‘Homelessness’
Language: English
Original price: n.p.
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE