by Imogene Russell Williams)
Let joy be unconfined! Almost seven years ago, I bewailed the loss of Uncle, the wealthy, purple-clad elephant with the BA whose surreal adventures, superbly illustrated by Quentin Blake, delighted many lucky child readers of the 60s and 70s. Despite the anarchic hilarity of Uncle's long-running feud with the Badfort crowd, and the ferocious loyalty of his fans, the series inexplicably dropped out of print. And while copies of the first two books remained relatively easy to come by, the never-reprinted later volumes, including Treacle Trouble and Claudius the Camel, changed hands only for sums worthy of the plutocratic pachyderm himself.
But last year Marcus Gipps, Gollancz editor and hardcore Uncle geek, stepped up with a Kickstarter to bolster the wobbliest faith in human endeavour. Raising nearly £30,000 – over four times the original target – and using the day job's skills and reach, Gipps brought us an Uncle omnibus containing all six books, every scrap of original illustration and new introductory material by such high-profile fans as Garth Nix and Neil Gaiman. This beauty doesn't come cheap – even Amazon aren't offering it at much under £40 – but considering a full set of Uncle books would formerly set you back about £800, I consider it a ridiculous bargain.
Now diehard fans can introduce a new generation of readers to the gently pompous patriarch and his nemeses – or keep the heavy, handsome hardback in a locked room and gloat over it, wearing cotton gloves.
In a similar act of small-scale beneficence, Hot Key Books now gives us its Forgotten Favourites – again, using a privileged, skilled position to bring back beloved books deemed worthy of a second crack. It has already revived Nicholas Fisk's Grinny, the horrifying account of an alien invader disguised as an elderly relative, Jill Paton Walsh's superlative second world war story Fireweed and the delightful-looking Mary Mary, which I didn't read myself as a child but am greatly looking forward to reading with my daughter.
And I'm already a long-time, inveterate Jane Nissen addict – Nissen, a former associate publisher at Penguin Children's Books, has as her mission statement "Bringing Classic Children's Books Back Into Print", which makes me want to clap until my hands catch fire. Scanning casually down the list of available JN titles makes me realise I need at least two more bookcases (or possibly a dedicated lean-to), but my heartiest recommendations would go to The Ordinary Princess, and The Voyage of QV66.
At a time when publishers are under inordinate pressure to justify all their purchases, and backlist and author longevity seem increasingly to belong to the past, the idea of professional editors returning to titles that gave them joy as children, and reviving them so new readers can share the pleasure, seems like a good deed in a naughty world. Not all well-thumbed childhood titles are worth such loving labour – some wear thin with time, or are trapped by stale attitudes to race, gender or class within the amber-bubble of their first publication. Those are curiosities, not comrades for the long haul. I would definitely pay top dollar for complete illustrated editions of Marmalade Atkins (a nose-thumbing British answer to Pippi Longstocking) or What-a-Mess, Frank Muir's small, fat, ungainly Afghan puppy. But what childhood favourites have you longed for, and how much would you expend, in time, money or ingenuity, to bring them back?