Book Review: Oliver and the Seawigs
Title: Oliver and the Seawigs
Author: Philip Reeve
Illustrator: Sarah McIntyre
[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC (advance readers copy) via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of Oliver and the Seawigs. I have in no way been compensated or asked to provide a positive review. Just honesty.]
I am glad that I am rather frequently asked by publishers to review children's literature. In this way, I am introduced to new authors that I may not otherwise know about or hear of. I am also introduced to illustrators who make beautiful drawings and or painting. One of my favorite classes in graduate school was the one where we did nothing but read children's books and literature.
Oliver and the Seawigs is a fun, whimsical book written for upper elementary to junior high students. I suspect, however, that even senior high students and adults will enjoy and appreciate the fast paced action, light-hearted fun, and witty humor of this book. It's filled with plenty of puns, alliterations, and jokes along the way–and rambling islands, talking birds, sarcastic seas, sea monkeys, mermaids, and hallowed shallows. As a teacher, I enjoy when authors make fun use of words and invite the readers to think their way through a story. Words are great fun and Reeve did a wonderful job making his enjoyment of words fun for the readers.
As I noted above, I read an ARC. I downloaded through NetGalley into Adobe Digital Editions and attempted to read the book using my Nook. I was very disappointed that the graphics heavy book did not function at all on my Nook. In fact, it crashed my Nook many times before I simply gave up and read the book entirely on ADE. Even in ADE the book pages turned very slowly and at times caused the program to be unresponsive for several minutes. This was unfortunate. I don't know if this is a problem just with the ARC or if this is an inherent problem, but it was my experience.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and these technical glitches in no way took away from the enjoyment of the story and my pleasure in reading it. I think I would prefer to have a nice hard bound copy as opposed to the digital copy, for reasons mentioned above and I hope that my digital experience was my own and not shared by other readers.
In some ways the book reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket–in this case, one young child working through a challenging adventure and attempting to solve relatively complex problems along the way. Furthermore, the language is not softened for readers who may well find themselves in need of a dictionary to work through some of the larger words in the book (e.g., crotchety, feted, doubloons). Of course they are not mountainous words, but still there may be some challenges for some students and other readers. And of course I believe this to be a good thing. One of the best ways to learn how to read and how to think through books is when a reader is forced, at times, to look up a word in a dictionary. Even now, after 40+ years of reading, this is a frequent practice of mine.
The artwork is spectacular. The version I read was mostly pencil drawings with a very small palette of color (blue & black). The artwork was very well done and complimented the story nicely. After looking at the web pages of the illustrator, I also see how the artwork reflects her personality in any number of ways. The artwork only enhanced the story and in no way detracted from it.
The story is simple. The story is short (and the illustrations, sometimes taking up two pages, make the book go by rather quickly). The story is fun. I don't think there is a lot of suspense for older readers who will find the story somewhat predictable and cookie-cutter, but younger readers will probably find it somewhat suspenseful and scary at times. (Maybe.) I highly recommend the book and hope at some point to include it in my own classroom (there are some extras at the illustrator's web page, see above for link).