by J. P. Martin, illustrated by Quentin Blake, and with a preface by Neil Gaiman
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.
Very few books exist at such a pitch of consistent imaginative glee, and Uncle is one elephant who should never be forgotten again.
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.
—The Times Educational Supplement
The Times Literary Supplement called the books ‘spellbinding’, the Observer predicted that they could become ‘a classic in the great English nonsense tradition’, while the Times Educational Supplement likened the books to Alice in Wonderland, a comparison that has been made many times since…Uncle’s disappearance continues to mystify his devotees. The books contain many of the elements of the best English children’s literature. There is the blurring of the line between the human and the animal kingdom, made familiar by Beatrix Potter and A.A. Milne. There is the quirky humour of ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ or ‘Alice’. And the books are illustrated by the wonderful drawings of Quentin Blake.
The books are very funny, installing a large cast of unlikely characters…in a world of mildly squiffy logic…And the illustrations are among Quentin Blake’s best work, scrawls and splotches that finally and unarguably distill character. But most important, this is political satire of a high order—Animal Farm for pre-teens, but wittier and more relevant to our own world.
—The Independent (London)
There can be few people under 50, and nobody under 40, who don’t feel that [Quentin Blake’s] merry or melancoly figures were part of their childhood. He has been described as a ‘national institution,’ and he as the trappings: an OBE…the first Children’s Laureate…as well as winning Hans Christian Andersen Award from the International Board on Books for Young People [and] appointed Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
—The Sunday 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
I’ve never met a child who didn’t love Quentin Blake.
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...