A.L. Kennedy’s latest book for children, Uncle Shawn and Bill (and the almost entirely unplanned adventure), features a talking badger, a mean pair of sisters, a scary dog and lots of tripe. But don’t worry, the tripe is only a product that the mean sisters sell (“used for packing round pianos and filling out the bits in newspapers that would otherwise be blank”), not a reflection at all of this fun adventure story.
Bill is a badger who only wants to drink fresh sage tea, brush his fine badger tail and remain a peaceful badger who does not wear red shorts. These plans are spoiled by the awful Ethel and Maude McGloone who kidnap Bill and plot to fight him against a terrifying dog in a pair of tight-fitting red shorts. The McGloone sisters are not alone in their dastardly plotting and we’re soon introduced to the whole McGloone clan who are all just as awful, if not worse. As well as kidnapping poor Bill, the McGloones have also lured four unsuspecting llamas to their farm by advertising that they run a llama paradise. Needless to say, the farm is no paradise and so as well as one unhappy badger we also have four miserable llamas.
Who can possibly help these unfortunate animals in their tricky predicaments? Kennedy introduces us to Uncle Shawn, a hero we may not want but we definitely need. He doesn’t have much of a plan, but Uncle Shawn is resourceful and willing to run head first into danger when he stumbles on the devious deeds taking place on the McGloone farm. He’s the kind of hero we could do with in real life, if only he could run in the forthcoming general election…
This book is a lot of fun and it’s clear that Kennedy enjoyed writing it. The characters are brought nicely to life and it’s easy to fear for poor Bill against the hideous McGloone clan as we’re told things like “Badger Bill realised that he felt lonely in each of his paws and every one of his whiskers and all the way into his heart”. At times like these it’s heartbreakingly sweet but this book is also very funny and sharp. There are moments of laugh out loud fun, with some very clever jokes that could be for the benefit of any parents who may be reading along. Gemma Correll’s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Kennedy’s words and really help to bring the imagery in the text to life; Badger Bill himself is so sweetly drawn that it’s hard to imagine his little face looking sad.
Uncle Shawn and Bill is a really brilliant children’s book and one that I recommend you buy for any small person in your life… but why let them have all the fun? Just sit back in your llama hammock and sip your fresh sage tea because there’s plenty here for adults to enjoy too.
All images courtesy of Walker Books, who have published Uncle Shawn and Bill by A.L. Kennedy and Gemma Correll.
Uncle Shawn and Bill was published by Walker Books on 2nd February 2017.