Barry Yourgrau, , illus. by Tony Auth. . Candlewick, $15.99 (211pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1935-0

Uncle Dudley, "a voyager with wizardly ambitions," rolls into Mt. Geranium in time to "act in loco parentis ," as Dudley puts it, when 11-year-old Duncan's parents take a summer break. Duncan, the wistful narrator of Yourgrau's first book for young readers, realizes his parents' concern about leaving him in Dudley's care were well-founded when a newsletter's magic spell causes part of his uncle to disappear and turns a neighbor statuesque. When Duncan's fractious friend, Arthur, casts doubt on Dudley's exploits in "Valparaíso, Panama" (pointing out that it's really in Chile), the boy begins to realize his uncle's imagination is as vivid as his common sense is scarce. Uncle Dudley's reach exceeds his grasp most foolishly in love, when he falls for a married waitress with heartbreaking (for him) and near-disastrous (for Duncan) results. The biggest disappointment for readers may be that uncle and nephew—"two bungling peas in the same pod"—never do make magic successfully. Though Duncan muses that their summer misadventures finally caused his uncle to grow up, readers may wonder why a grown man would hightail it out of town without saying goodbye rather than face the music with Duncan's parents. Black-and-white watercolor-and-ink drawings, including a few double-page spreads, add cartoonish appeal to this pleasant, if not quite enchanting, read. Ages 9-12. (Aug.)