In Oliver and the Seawigs, Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre have crafted a charming children’s story in which young Oliver saves his explorer parents with the help of a mermaid, an albatross and a rambling island named Cliff.
Oliver and his parents, having finally explored everything there is to explore, arrive home, only to discover a bunch of new islands where there shouldn’t be any. Naturally, his parents hop into a boat to check them out. When they don’t come back, though, Oliver realizes he’s got to go find them.
He takes his own inflatable dinghy and lands on one of the islands, only to realize it’s actually alive, and not just because there’s an albatross named Mr. Culpepper. The island is one of the Rambling Isles which can move at will and are all on their way to the Hallowed Shallows for the once-every-seven-year competition to see who has the best seawig — the artfully arranged decorations on top of their heads (which is the part of the island that usually shows above water).
The unfortunate Cliff, however, has not much more than Mr. Culpepper’s nest, and he knows that he’s not going to win. Again. But at Oliver’s insistence and the assistance of the near-sighted mermaid Iris, Cliff is crowned by a wrecked submarine, making him a possible contender.
But then a nasty old rambling isle named the Thurlstone steals the wreck, and Oliver spies another treasure in its seawig: his own parents! The rest of the story concerns his efforts to get them back while also helping Cliff in his quest.
More adventure than mystery, Oliver and the Seawigs is delightfully illustrated, in a way that helps the reader see what’s happening without being too scary. Young chapter book readers with big imaginations will enjoy both story and pictures — maybe as much as I did.
I read an advance review copy of Oliver and the Seawigs provided by the publisher.