Title: Oliver and the Seawigs
Author: Philip Reeve; Sarah McIntyre
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: July 22, 2014
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 4-8
More by this author: Fever Crumb, Larklight, Cakes in Space (forthcoming)
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When your parents are explorers, you never stay in one place for long. Oliver dreams of a place to call home - a normal bedroom, school, and friends. Finally, after there is nothing new to discover or explore, Oliver's parents decide to return home. While his parents explore the curious islands near their home, Oliver settles in, but it doesn't take long to realize that something has gone awry. The islands are suddenly gone, taking his parents with them! Oliver sets out on one last adventure to find his parents and uncover the mystery of the missing islands. Along the way he'll team up with a near-sighted mermaid, help style a sea wig, and take on some meddlesome sea monkeys. Oliver and the Seawigs is full of cleverly imagined characters and humorous illustrations.
This first 'Not-So-Impossible Tale' from Reeve and McIntyre is so much fun! Oliver and the Seawigs combines a laugh-out-loud funny story with illustrations that perfectly complement the text, a format that is both engaging and non-threatening to beginning readers. The recommended age range for this title is 4 to 8, but I think it's best suited for strong beginning readers (1st/2nd grade) and slightly older, reluctant and struggling readers... though I imagine a 4 year old with a taste for adventure and a healthy attention span would enjoy this one as a read-aloud. That said, some of the humor might be a bit over their heads; for example, the Sargasso Sea becomes the Sarcastic Sea, full of droll, sarcastic seaweed that constantly pokes fun at Oliver and his new found friends - potentially still funny for a young listener, but more so for the adult reader!
Not only is this story full of adventure and humor, it has strong themes of loneliness and friendship. For various reasons, any of the characters in Oliver and the Seawigs have never had proper friends. Throughout the story, the characters deal with their loneliness and desire for friends in different ways, sometimes in positive ways, sometimes not. For example, the young sea captain who takes Oliver's parents captive does so as part of a grand scheme to gain power and attention, a desire directly influenced by his loneliness and lack of friends.
I thoroughly enjoyed this first 'Not-So-Impossible Tales' book and very much look forward to the next, Cakes in Space!