Oliver and the Seawigs is a delightful, flight of fancy fantasy.
Author Philip Reeve has captured the imagination of a young reader quite well in this story of Oliver Crisp, a ten-year-old who was born into a life of adventure. His parents are explorers of a voracious sort. They can’t NOT explore if there’s something that captures their attention. They try to settle down, buying an old seaside home. One morning Oliver wakes up to discover that his parents are gone. He wanders down to the shore only to discover a series of islands that he couldn’t remember being there the day before. Knowing his parents must be exploring one of them, he decides to head home and wait for them. The next morning, still with no sign of his parents, Oliver discovers that all the islands he saw the day before are gone, except for one smaller island. Taking a small boat to the island, Oliver befriends an albatross by the name of Mr. Culpeper, and a near-sighted, off-key-singing mermaid by the name of Iris. And the islands…? The islands are Rambling Islands, currently making their way to a big gathering where one island will be selected the winner in a ‘seawig’ contest (the islands pick up scraps of ocean debris [sunken ships, etc] to wear as decorative wigs). Oliver knows his parents must be trapped on one of the islands and is in a hurry to get to them. He passes through the Sarcastic Sea (where kelp make sarcastic comments) and sea monkeys (actual monkeys popped from seaweed) are sent to stop him.
As you can see, it is highly inventive and imaginative journey for Oliver and the readers.
The book is lavishly illustrated by Sarah McIntyre with whimsical drawings that perfectly capture the mood. The full and double page spreads are busy with eye-popping characters that will make adults chuckle and have children staring for a long time, absorbing all that is going on.
One aspect of the story bothered me, though. Oliver is clearly our hero and the one to whom our children readers will be drawn to, and yet Oliver does one not so nice thing. Oliver makes fun of another character. Oliver meets a young boy by the name of Stacey, who becomes Oliver’s nemesis as he will do what he can to keep Oliver from getting to his parents. Oliver makes fun of Stacey for having a girl’s name. More than once. And this made me twinge. Like it or not, belittling someone is bullying, and bullying is a hot topic in schools and education. It just doesn’t seem right that the hero of the story should be allowed to tease someone else for their name. Ten year olds get teased enough for all sorts of things. We don’t need to get the impression that this okay because our heroic character in a funny book does it.
There were times I found the book to be just a little dull. Some of the ‘stops’ on Oliver’s trek to the seawig competition really slowed the pace of the story. The ‘sea monkeys’ was one of the biggest culprits here, though the stop in the Sarcastic Sea was another. The ideas here were clever, though both probably appeal more to the adults reading the story than to the children.
Looking for a good book? The story in Oliver and the Seawigs was fun and clever, but it’s the art that will hold the young reader’s interest.
* * * * * *
Oliver and the Seawigs
author: Philip Reeve
artist: Sarah McIntyre
publisher: Oxford University Press
hardcover, 195 pages