By Philip Reeve
Illustrations by Sarah McIntyre
Available now from Random House BFYR
Philip Reeve's latest novel, OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS, is an interesting thing. It's a bit more complex than a chapter book, but simpler than a middle grade novel. It's heavily illustrated (almost every page!) but I wouldn't call it a graphic hybrid because there isn't use of sequential graphic scenes. The illustrations enhance the story, especially a dual-page spread of the seawigs, but they never tell the story.
The eponymous Oliver is a young boy who travels the world (reluctantly) with his explorer parents. One day he wakes up to find them missing. It turns out he is on a Rambling Island, one that moved away while Mr. and Mrs. Crisp were exploring. Oliver gets to know the island, called Cliff, and a near-sighted mermaid named Iris. Together, the three try to create a magnificent seawig for Cliff. The Rambling Islands have an annual competition for who can have the best seawig. Unfortunately, a meaner island, populated by monkeys and a boy named Stacey de Lacey, doesn't plan to play fair.
It's a cute little book that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman's FORTUNATELY THE MILK. There are some really clever elements, such as how the island's guts work. And even writing for a younger audience, Reeve knows how to turn a phrase. OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS is independent reader friendly, but not too simple.
Sarah McIntyre's accompanying two-color art has clean lines, big eyes, and a surprising amount of detail. The illustrations look extremely simple, but there are often parts of dense visual information. I can see readers, especially young rereaders, getting a kick out of lingering over the illustrations. (And all of the two-page spreads are just magnificent.) I also recommend going to her site to download some activity sheets.
I think OLIVER AND THE SEAWIGS is a fun adventure novel for young readers. I'm definitely planning to share it with my niece, who is now reading on her own.