Oliver And The Seawigs is written by Philip Reeve, more famously known for equally wildly imaginative but more serious works such as the Mortal Engines series and Here Lies Arthur. Here he’s clearly enjoying himself immensely, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t get a good story. The bonkers plot involves islands that get up and walk to a place where they will compete for island leadership based on the best ‘wig’ of shipwrecks or fish or rubbish they can concoct, a sinister army of greasy green-furred and web-footed monkeys, an odd one out mermaid with bad eyesight, a teenager made angry by reactions to his girly name, and of course our hero, Oliver, and his unreliable explorer parents. But the action is all pleasingly logical within the mad world created, and the plight of the characters surprisingly compelling and moving. Why? Because they have hopes and fears and problems of kinds that we can identify with. There are bullies to be tackled by the children, and a monstrous human-eating island to be faced up to by timid bald little island Cliff. And at the end Oliver is faced with his own double-longing; to be settled at home, but also to not leave Cliff and his mermaid and albatross friend. Can the two be achieved at the same time? Read the story and see!
Sarah McIntyre has done the very stylish and truly beautiful pictures. She manages to combine a lucid depiction of story action with great humour, but it’s that quality of beauty that is a rarity in illustrations for novels for this sort of age. More of this, please, publishers! When Iris the Mermaid finally gets the glasses that enable her to see her world clearly for the first time, those glasses could have been pinched from Sarah McIntyre! I suspect a lot of in-jokes in these pictures. The enjoyment in creating this book was clearly mutual, by an exceptionally talented pair who are both both writers and illustrators.
So this story is about as far as you can get from an ‘issues book’, and yet it would bring comfort and strength to children suffering bullying or needing glasses, and give pause for thought to those who do the bullying or are the parents who maybe don’t give enough attention to their child. It’s a book that will, I think, be one of those books that stay with its readers, internally and externally, for life.
“Eeep!” (Those blessed monkeys get everywhere!)
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