Wednesday 24 June 2015

"Rosen doesn't just do funny…he is funny" says Alex O'Connell re 'Uncle Gobb'

Sunday Times children’s book of the week

Michael Rosen is on side-splitting form, says Alex O’Connell

Uncle Gobb and the Dread Shed illus. Neal Layton

published by Bloomsbury

'Another book by the prolific Michael Rosen (he’s written more than 140) is a cause for delight, and in the case of my eight-year-old daughter, it induced a fit of the giggles that lasted six minutes.

Rosen, a former children’s laureate, doesn’t just do funny - like so many comedians who bash out kids’ books - he is funny. And unlike so many other mid-range stories, heavy on the illustrations, which play with formats and type with postmodern predictability but forget to tell a tale, Rosen is the real thing. Even his acknowledgements and profiles at the back made me smile. Neal Layton’s drawings are a perfect match, too.

This is story of a ten-year-old Malcolm who must live with his appalling Uncle Gobb whose constant carp is that ‘the boy needs to do more homework!’ while threatening to put his nephew in the Dread Shed (Rosen’s version of Dahl’s Chokey). So far so good baddie. Malcolm’s best friend is the ‘peaky’- looking Crackersnacker who, despite being his pal, sometimes calls him Ponkyboy in reference to an occasion when Malcolm thought the capital of Italy was Ponky, not Rome. Malcolm also eats a lot of beans.

Rosen weaves in maths, geography, social responsibility and education (he’s wonderful on the cult of the ‘worksheet’) into the fabric of the tale with the lightest of touches, as Malcolm desperately tries to outdo his uncle. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the boy doesn’t entirely defeat him. This is something of a relief. Only a spoilsport would deprive us of a follow-up,  and Rosen lets us know in the final chapter that he isn’t one of those.'