Monday, December 15, 2014

Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre (Illustrator)

It's a bird... It's a plane... It's a seawig! A newfangled superhero you don't want to miss. Ten-year-old Oliver Crisp's parents ironically go missing the day they stop exploring and move into the old family home. Oliver is unpacking the car when his parents spy a bunch of islands in the bay. Jumping into a dinghy, they disappear along with the islands by the time Oliver sets out to rescue them. He sails out to a lone island and meets an albatross named, "Culpeper," who explains that the islands move. Oliver snags a ride and meets a far-sighted mermaid, Iris, who is different from the average mer-person. She's smart, can't see a lick, can't sing, could care less about looks, and is kind. She explains that the only time she "caterwauled" like other mermaids she lured a walrus instead of a handsome fisherman because she thought it a man. She bumps into everything and the reader never knows what silly mishap she's going to have. She meets Oliver because she was on her way to the optician but got lost. Har, har. The gags are nonstop with adult and kid humor. When the island turns into a talking rock-giant... I was hooked... line and sinker. Plenty of action, humor, and odd characters for all.

The rock-giant character reminds me of trolls. We used to look for troll heads on the rocky bluffs by the Mississippi River as kids. My grandma said trolls slept as rocks. We told troll stories to scare each other. Trolls lived under bridges and could be ferocious or dumb. I even had a creepy troll doll with pink hair. A seawig is like a troll and can be kind or mean. A seawig is a floating island with the grassy top being its hair and its nose and eyes on the rocks underwater. Seawigs talk, but not often. When Oliver hears his parents are headed for the Hallowed Shallows where a wig competition called, "The Night of the Seawigs," is held every seven years, he's determined to get there. He must talk the seawig that they are on into entering the competition. Oliver gives the seawig a name, Cliff, and concocts a plan with Iris to get Cliff the best wig for the contest.

The characters are distinct and memorable. Mr. Culpeper is an overbearing curmudgeonly albatross that can be a pain in the neck, but also a friend to count on. He blames Oliver when things go wrong, verbally opposes risk-taking adventures, is a know-it-all, but he supports their rescue and helps navigate through threatening fog. The sea monkeys are mischievous, not-so-bright creatures that are fast, "Sea monkeys spilled down Thurlstone's face like a river of snot." Nothing like a splattering of snot humor to draw in the young readers. Seawig Thurlstone is a villain that turned wicked when human sacrifices were made on the temple at its top and the blood trickled down inside him.

Stacey de Lacey is Thurlstone's partner and the two will cheat, lie, and steal to win the contest. The two villains have captured Oliver's parents and are going to sacrifice them for the contest. All you readers traumatized by having a tease-me-till-I-scream name will nod in understanding or shake your head at Stacey de Lacey's inferiority complex as he explains turning to evil after kids teased him about his girlie name. When he frees the sea monkeys from their pods therefore getting their zealous loyalty, the narrator says, "If Stacey de Lacey had been a different sort of boy, he might have thought, 'I've found a friend!' But Stacey had never really wanted friends. He thought, 'I've found a servant!'"Swirl into the current some Sarcastic Seaweed and you'll be snort-laughing snot down your own face. Dive right in. 

The winner of the contest gets to be Chief Island and tell the other Rambling Isles, as they are nicknamed, where to travel. They can take the best flotsam to add to their wig too. When a seawig stops meandering, he or she settles in a certain place. This is more like dying. Oliver describes settled islands as "lifeless." When Cliff decides to "settle" because Thurlstone stole his wig, Oliver and Iris are desperate to get him to change his mind and not give up. Sometimes I feel like my life overseas is like being a seawig or Rambling Isle. I'm like Oliver's parents who are addicted to exploring. Some day, we too, will have to settle and stop traveling. Ummm... that doesn't mean I want to "settle" and die. Just so we are clear.

The author cleverly adds child-appealing touches such as having a resolution that involves tickling or a villain turned bad from name-calling. Add in shipwrecks, seawigs that look like grass-covered Easter Island statues, hyperactive monkeys, crotchety seaweed, and a mermaid that can shatter glass with her singing and you have a great rumpus. Sarah McIntyre's black, white, and blue illustrations add so much humor to the story. The big eyes on the children make them look curious, while on the parents overexcited or scared. The seawigs are my favorite. Cliff looks like a baby Pacman and Thurlstone looks like a petrified globmonster.

Add in themes of friendship and perseverance and you've got some depth to the plot. When Cliff decides to rescue Oliver, he does so out of friendship and doing the right thing. He chooses to not be a victim, but try and make a change whether it works or not. When Cliff's being threatened, Oliver in turn saves him. That's what friends are for. Friends are also good to go swimming with in the ocean. Grab your flippers and goggles and flip into the pages of this book with its unusual superhero. Glub, glub, glub.

4 Smileys

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