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.
J. P. Martin (1879–1966) was born in Yorkshire into a family of Methodist ministers. He took up the family vocation, serving when young as a missionary to a community of South African diamond miners and then, during the First World War, as an army chaplain in Palestine and Egypt, before returning to minister to parishes throughout the north of England. He died at eighty-six from a flu caught while bringing pots of honey to his parishioners in cold weather. Martin began telling Uncle stories to entertain his children, who later asked him to write them down so that they could read them to their own children; the stories were ﬁnally published as a book in 1964, when Martin was eighty-four. The jacket to the ﬁrst edition of Uncle notes that “the inspiration for these stories seems to come from the industrial landscape that [Martin] knew as a child. . . . He still likes to take his family and friends on walks through industrial scenes. He also enjoys painting the wild and beautiful landscape where he lives. It is not enough to say he loves children; he is still continually visited by them.”
Quentin Blake is one of the most celebrated children’s book illustrators working today, having illustrated more than three hundred books by such authors as Russell Hoban, Joan Aiken,and Roald Dahl. A proliﬁc writer of books for children himself, Blake was appointed the first Children’s Laureate of England in 1999.
Neil Gaiman is an award-winning author of novels, short stories, and graphic novels. Among his works are the children’s books Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, and The Day I Swapped MyDad for Two Goldfish; the Sandman graphic novel series; and the fantasy novels Stardust and Neverwhere. Originally from England, Gaiman now lives in the United States.