Review Blog

Mar 09 2016

The selected adventures of Bottersnikes and Gumbles by S. A. Wakefield

cover image

Ill. by Desmond Digby. HarperCollins, 2016. ISBN 9781460751923
Deep in the Australian bush, in rubbish heaps along dusty roadsides live the Bottersnikes. They are extremely lazy and so rather than building nests, digging burrows or even looking for hollows in trees for shelter, they just cover up with the detritus of the rubbish heaps that are so often found along country roads. Much of the time they just sleep, blending into the landscape with their green wrinkly skin, cheese-grater noses and long pointed ears that go red when they are angry. But should something need doing, they would rather spend their time trying to catch the cheerful Gumbles to do it for them than do it themselves.
The Gumbles are polite, always ready to lend a hand but also rather naive so they are perfect prey for the indolent Bottersnikes. The adventures begin when one morning when a thistle growing through his watering can wakes the King of the Bottersnikes but instead of just pulling it out, he roars for someone to open the door of a nearby rusting car so he can move into that. Being who they are the Gumbles who were passing by agree to help, and the King realises that they could be very useful servants in the future. So he orders the other Bottersnikes, who have been woken by his roaring to grab them. And when they do, they discover that Gumbles can be squashed into any shape without being hurt, even flattened to pancake thinness, but they can't return to their regular shape without help. By squishing them into the empty cans that are lying around, they can be kept as slaves, on hand for whenever there is something that needs doing!
Trapped and forced to work for these odious creatures was not what the Gumbles had planned but unable to get out of the cans, their future looks sealed. But the King did not see a little Gumble - Tinkingumble, a wise little creature who has 'tinks' which come to him with the sound of a spoon tapping a glass, who was fiddling with a can-opener and worked out how to free his friends. So when the Bottersnikes went to sleep for the night, the Gumbles escaped although their giggling nearly thwarted their plans.
While they do escape successfully and free themselves of the cans, which they neatly put in an official rubbish bin, the Bottersnikes are now aware of them and their potential and so the book comprises a series of discrete, complete stories of Bottersnikes vs Gumbles that have delighted the children I've read them to over the years.
The stories are a wonderful springboard for environmental studies focusing on understanding the effect of our actions on the environment and how we manage and protect resources as well as an excellent basis for collaborative mural-making project as the children create their own Bottersnikes using Wakefield's description and junk materials and Gumbles by stuffing and stitching pieces of old stockings. Each day we collected the rubbish scattered in the playground and added it to the mural and after just one week we had a powerful statement to present to the rest of the school that had a significant impact on the litter problem. With a recent television series and movie (sneak peek) which give great scope for exploring the interpretation of the same story through different media, this story, which has been out of print for some time, is now firmly back into the lives of our younger readers.
Barbara Braxton

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