By J.P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake
If you think Babar is the only storybook elephant with a cult following, then you haven’t met Uncle, the presiding pachyderm of a wild fictional universe that has been collecting accolades from children and adults for going on fifty years. Unimaginably rich, invariably swathed in a magnificent purple dressing-gown, Uncle oversees a vast ramshackle castle full of friendly kooks while struggling to fend off the sneak attacks of the incorrigible (and ridiculous) Badfort Crowd. Each Uncle story introduces a new character from Uncle’s madcap world: Signor Guzman, careless keeper of the oil lakes; Noddy Ninety, an elderly train conductor and the oldest student of Dr. Lyre’s Select School for Young Gentlemen; the proprietors of Cheapman’s Store (where motorbikes are a halfpenny each) and Dearman’s Store (where the price of an old milk jug goes up daily); along with many others. But for every delightful friend of Uncle, there is a foe who is no less deliriously wicked. Luckily the misbegotten schemes of the Badfort Crowd are no match for Uncle’s superior wits.
Quentin Blake’s quirky illustrations are the perfect complement to J.P. Martin’s stories, each one of a perfect length for bedtime reading. Lovers of Roald Dahl and William Steig will rejoice in Uncle’s wonderfully bizarre and happy world, where the good guys always come out on top, and once a year, everybody, good and bad, sits down together for an enormous Christmas feast.
Hardcover, 176 pages
These extremely funny books were never a mass-market proposition, but nearly 40 years on retain a cult following. Blake still gets irate letters from parents demanding to know why they aren’t in print, because they want to read them to their children.
— The Independent (London)
Uncle’s neglect may be partly due to the fact that in the supposedly egalitarian age in which we live he is an unfashionable figure—a millionaire elephant in a purple dressing gown exercising one man rule over “Homeward,” a vast moated castle rather like a combination of Manhattan and Battersea Fun Fair. The Wind in the Willows, Robinson Crusoe, and many other classics would, I suspect, find it hard to find favour with modern publishers in search of inoffensive matter with the right kind of message. Such people could easily mistake the violent horseplay in Uncle for cruelty and be uneasy about political undertones.
— The Sunday Times
J.P. Martin’s books are very funny or satirical depending on one’s own depth in reading. Uncle is a magnificent take-off of the benevolent despot. It is all a matter of tradition. You ask any class “Who’s heard of Alice in Wonderland” and up goes a forest of hands. Uncle is on the same level and should be more widely read and enjoyed.
— The Junior Bookshelf
This is fantasy in the grand style; in the tradition of Lear and Graham. Younger readers will take it at face value and enjoy it thoroughly. Older readers will be able to see into the depths of these adventures. This is true, however of most juvenile fiction; who appreciates Alice when it is first read to them?
— The Times Educational Supplement
I’ve never met a child who didn’t love Quentin Blake.
— Daily Telegraph
Those who fall for it may find that many lasting shared jokes spring from J.P. Martin’s eccentric story...A classic of British nonsense, the book was originally published in 1964 at the behest of the author’s grown children, who wanted the stories they heard in their youth passed down to the next generation. And a most elegant nonsense it is, utterly silly and deeply sophisticated at the same time...In the tradition of the best English children’s literature...