Bumface by Morris Gleitzman, paperback novel, 182 pages, published by Penguin Books in 1998.
Angus is only eleven, but after school he has to look after his brother, Leo, who is five and his baby sister, Imogen. Everyday he picks them up from school and daycare, he gives them dinner, bathes them, puts them to bed, and reads them a story. Every day. His mum is an actress in a famous serial, she never gets in before late, and is happy leaving the parenting to Angus. Each of the kids have a different father, all three of which are in show business and are unreliable, and not really dad material. So Angus has had to grow up fast, but all he really wants to do is act as Bumface the Pirate in the school play.
Angus becomes concerned that his mum might have another baby with number 4. Realising that that would mean another baby for him to look after, Angus sets out to find a way of preventing another pregnancy. While looking for a solution, he meets Rindi, a girl who is only his age, but she is soon to be shipped off to India to marry a man twice her age in an arranged marriage. Angus and Rindi become firm friends, and try to help each other.
Morris Gleitzman is one of my favourite authours from my childhood, and this book doesn’t disappoint. Bumface is well written, entertaining, and deals with some serious issues with humour and compassion. A story about friendship, responsibility and letting kids be kids. Both Angus and Rindi have been asked to act as adults years in advance of the norm in Australia, and this binds them in a special friendship. Rindi comes from a loving family who think they are doing the right thing by their daughter, while Angus is taken for granted and neglected by his parents. Both of their situations are sad and in a perfect world wouldn’t happen. They should just get to be kids with kid concerns, not kids in such adult predicaments.
Bumface is better for more mature children in middle to upper primary school because the story does spend a lot of time dealing with contraceptives and the prevention of pregnancy. Before reading this book, I think it would be best that children know the facts of life and what contraceptives are for. There is also the theme of children brides. These young brides are expected to have sexual intercourse with their much older husbands, and to provide them with babies at a young age. For most Australian children, it is unthinkable to be married before they have even started high school, and this may require some discussion with an adult. For these reasons I will be holding off on letting my second grader read this book for a little while.