My six year old son picked up a copy of Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve in a bookshop a few weeks ago. We were in there for a while, as is our wont, and he was absolutely mesmerised by the story and really wanted to bring it home.
I said no (it is his birthday soon and I was going to buy it for him as a birthday surprise), and was then delighted to find it was offered to me by Amazon Vine, who I review for. It came in the post last week and Oscar and I have squabbled over who gets to read it first. He is already a quarter of the way through it, but I finished it first due to cruelly stealing it this weekend.
I love Philip Reeve as an author. I first came across him as the author of the teen/YA fantasy series, Mortal Engines, which I studied on an Open University course. Then I read Goblins, a book for younger readers which is excellent fun and totally surprised me after the seriousness and drama of the Mortal Engines series.
Oliver and the Seawigs is for much younger readers, from the age of about six to nine if they’re independent readers, or from four upwards if a parent or teacher will read for them. It’s a great story for both boys and girls.
It is a good, solid transitional book for readers who struggle with full novels, or who just prefer not to leave picture books behind just yet, but need text that is a little more challenging than the average picture book story.
The chapters are short, the language is not too challenging in terms of vocabulary (although the writing is not pedestrian by any means), the plot is easy to follow but exciting, and there are lots of good illustrations by Sarah McIntyre and plenty of white space on the pages so the quantity of text is not too daunting.
It is the story of Oliver, born to adventure loving parents who are such successful explorers that they have been everywhere and done everything and discovered everything that was left on the planet to discover by the time Oliver is ten. The story opens as they are going back to the ramshackle house they have owned for years but never lived in.
As they pull up to the house they realise that the bay that the house is situated on is full of small islands. The islands were never there before, they have just appeared. Oliver’s parents are delighted. They have found something new to discover, and while Oliver is more excited to have a bedroom to call his own, and goes into the house, his parents hop into their boat and set off to explore the islands.
Oliver doesn’t get worried until several hours later when they don’t come back, and he sets off in his dinghy to find out what happened to his parents.
This is a funny, beautifully written tale which has a wonderful cast of oddball characters and enough magic and excitement to keep your child hooked from the get go. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and my son can’t put it down.
It reminds me somewhat of Chris Riddell’s all too short series about Ottoline, a little girl whose parents are explorers and who leave Ottoline in the care of her strange friend Mr. Munroe, while they go off around the globe having adventures. There are only three books in the Ottoline series and my children and I have read and reread them several times, so it is nice to find something in the same vein, but which is also fresh and just as good.
It would be a lovely story to read in class, as it’s short enough to hold the interest of a class for its duration and also to be read within a half term slot.