Children’s book blog: February reads – Weasels, Oliver and the Seawigs and In Bloom
I’m making a few changes to my regular ‘recommended reads’ post. From now on, I’ll be picking out three of the best children’s books I’ve read over the past month, from picture books to young adult novels, old classics to new favourites. My recommendations for February are Weasels by Elys Dolan, Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre and In Bloom by Matthew Crow.
PICTURE BOOK OF THE MONTH: Weasels
Just what do weasels do with themselves all day? Eat nuts and berries? Frolic in the leaves? Argue with squirrels? Well, according to author-illustrator Elys Dolan it’s actually none of the above. In fact, they are busy plotting world domination with the aid of a planet-conquering machine and copious cups of coffee.
Dolan’s hysterical picture book follows the weasels at work on the day they plan to seize global power – but unexpected obstacles keep thwarting their efforts, from faulty machinery to over-zealous health and safety inspectors.
The story is presented in semi comic-book style, packed full of amusing illustrations and witty speech bubbles which will appeal to adults as much as children – when the world-conquering machine breaks down, one weasel (presumably from the IT department) meekly asks whether anyone has tried turning it on and off again, while others bustle about offering their colleagues hot drinks.
Every page is a treasure trove of hilarity and it will take several reads to pick up on all the clever little details which Dolan has scattered about the place. It’s also fun to follow the progress of individual weasels as the story unfolds – keep an eye out for the one with the huge drill, who happens to be my personal favourite.
There seems to be a quite a trend for heavily-illustrated books for seven to 12-year-olds at the moment, and it’s one I’m very much in favour of – especially when the result is as ingenious and imaginative as Oliver and the Seawigs.
Written by Philip Reeve (the Mortal Engines quartet) and illustrated by Sarah McIntyre (Superkid and Morris the Mankiest Monster), it tells the surreal tale of a 10-year-old boy who goes in search of his missing parents, with a little help from a short-sighted mermaid and a wig-wearing talking island called Cliff. It also features possibly my favourite children’s book villain of all time: a megalomaniac teenage boy called Stacey de Lacey (and, yes, Stacey CAN be a boy’s name), who commands an army of slobbering sea monkeys and dresses a bit like Adam Ant.
Reeve’s audaciously off-the-wall story is complimented perfectly by McIntyre’s highly distinctive drawings – in fact, I would say that Seawigs marks her finest work to date and seals her status as British illustrating royalty (notwithstanding the fact that the she’s actually American by birth). And there are plenty of humorous little touches to chuckle at along the way, including the ‘Sarcastic Sea’, in which the resident seaweed likes to make snarky remarks at any passing adventurers.
A book about a teenager coping with leukaemia may not sound like the most entertaining or uplifting story you could imagine, but Matthew Crow’s debut young adult novel is both of these things – and so much more. It introduces 15-year-old self-proclaimed intellectual, Francis Wooten, who feels his brilliance is wasted in his home county of Tyne and Wear and is being hailed by publishers as one of the most memorable fictional teenage voices since Adrian Mole.
They may well be right – like Adrian, Francis is a neurotic, sensitive, intelligent soul, with a strong sense of irony about his own unpopularity at school and his inexperience in matters of the heart. That is until he is diagnosed with leukaemia and falls head-over-heels for feisty fellow cancer patient, Amber.
One of the book’s many strengths is that it does not reduce Francis to the sum total of his illness. He still has to deal with all the same complexities that other teenage boys his age face, from losing his virginity to experimenting with cannabis. His leukaemia, though terrifying, is in some ways just another thing to add to his long list of things to feel awkward about.
There’s a wonderfully endearing cast of supporting characters, too, from Francis’s no-nonsense, wine-chugging mum to Amber, the spiky but inspirational object of Francis’s affections. Crow grew up in Newcastle himself, and it shines through in his acutely funny observations of the people Francis encounters in his day-to-day life. It’s hard to pick just one example, but here’s a little taster to give you the idea: “To people of Grandma’s age, an affair is something as rare and confusing as an en suite; the sort of thing only film stars and foreigners have”. Pure genius.
Rebecca Davies is a journalist and author and is currently working on a young adult novel set in Hackney. You can read more of her children’s book blogs here
Follow Rebecca on Twitter @TheStoryMonsterTagged in: Elys Dolan, In Bloom, Matthew Crow, Oliver and the Seawigs, Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre, Weasels
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