Eccentric Uncle Frank comes to visit and literally makes himself at home. He begins to dig a pit in his relatives’ middle-class urban back yard, searching first for dinosaur bones, then for oil, and eventually for treasure. Oblivious to his family’s disbelief (excluding the boy who narrates the story), and later intense media coverage, he ends up unearthing a huge ancient statue. Uncle Frank has the manic good cheer of an updated Monsieur Racine (Tom Ungerer’s The Beast of Monsieur Racine, Farrar, 1971) but is revealed in contemporary, vivid, and thoroughly wacky full-color art. Surprises enliven the book an Uncle Frank moves furniture and amenities into the pit and has a hot tub installed. Emphatic characters are notable for their angular hairstyles, and the spot art is irresistible apropos. Original and endearing, the text and illustrations support one another seamlessly. Best of all, the offbeat protagonist proves himself right against all logical odds. Children will regret his departure and hope he’ll be back soon.
McElligott (The Truth About Cousin Ernie’s Head, 1996) finds inspiration in Uncle Frank, an amiable old codger who is full of cockamamie ideas and immune to suggestions that he’s worn out his welcome. Uncle Frank answers an invitation to drop in on his relatives: ” ‘I can only stay a few hours,’ said Uncle Frank. A month later, he was still with us.” A scientist/inventor with a shock of white hair to make Einstein proud, and one card shy of a deck, Uncle Frank believes that dinosaur bones are buried in the backyard and starts to dig and dig and dig. As the young narrator’s father becomes increasingly vexed, Uncle Frank changes his mind and keeps digging, first for oil and then for buried treasure. His hole in the ground begins to resemble a full-service apartment, and he orders a hot tub to make it homier yet. At the climactic moment when the narrator’s father has had enough and Uncle Frank is about to be evicted, treasure is struck: an Easter Island-like statue that resembles Uncle Frank (who hastens off to his next adventure). This is a good-time, goofy story, without deep meanings or hidden agendas. The illustrations, chock full of color and shadow, have the fuzzy quality of low-tech computer artwork. (Picture book. 5-8)