Ollie's Odyssey

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Ollie's Odyssey Book Poster Image
Illustrated stolen-toy tale has heart and scary scenes.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The motley heroes go into battle quoting Admiral Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead." Kids will have fun catching the references as Billy (age 6) encounters old-time movies such as King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, and Frankenstein and stories such as Hansel and Gretel. Billy's battle plan involves "some Robin Hood, and some Use the Force Luke, and some Trojan Horse, and some ... Yellow Submarine."

Positive Messages

Many messages about courage, friendship, loyalty, teamwork, and, above all, remembering the ones you love and not allowing them to be forgotten.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Six-year-old Billy is so determined to save lost Ollie that he sneaks out of his house in the middle of the night, crosses a street with no adult in sight, and does all kinds of other things that fall into the "kids, don't try this at home category," all of which might call for a bit of parental discussion. But Billy and Ollie's strong bond and unswerving loyalty are the guiding forces here, no matter how scary things get, and enable them to help others as well as themselves. Each of them faces meanness, cartoonish violence, spooky settings, and creepy characters but also finds kindness where he least expects it. Billy's parents are kind, loving, and, like all adults, incomprehensible to Billy and Ollie.

Violence & Scariness

The really scary stuff here is emotional: Billy being born with a tiny hole in his heart, and all the worry that causes; the fear that you'll be forced to turn into a grown-up and forget the toy friend you love most in the world. Still, there's lots of cartoonish but scary violence: A character is crushed beneath a falling building; another (made of scrap metal) loses his head in various conflicts but manages to reattach it. Both Billy and Ollie are captured, tied up, and carted off to dark, scary places ruled by Zozo the evil clown. Zozo wants to remove Ollie's heart. Characters face many dangers. Author Joyce's colorful illustrations range from cute and endearing to (sometimes comically) scary; sensitive kids and those already creeped out by clowns might want to skip this one.

Language

One "damn" in the historical quote, "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ollie's Odyssey, from popular author-illustrator William Joyce, is an appealing, heartfelt story full of nuanced positive messages. It's sure to resonate with many kids -- and be too much for others. In lively, literate, funny text and illustrations, Joyce takes his heroes -- a 6-year-old boy and his stuffed-toy companion Ollie, his BFF from birth -- to dark, scary places made all the more frightening because the inhabitants have one thing in common: forgetting, and often being forgotten by, those they loved. In real life, Billy and Ollie are threatened with separation, as the expectation looms that Billy will grow up and forget his beloved toy, and it's that fear that drives them to heroic deeds in their quest to find and save each other. There are strong messages of kindness, courage, the redeeming power of love, and standing by your friends, even when they do things you don't understand. Sensitive kids and those who are scared of clowns might want to skip this one, as the villain is a clown and some of the images, while humorous, might be scary. There's one occurrence of "damn," as the characters quote Admiral Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes! Full steam ahead." The language and illustrations are a natural for reading aloud to kids who aren't quite ready to read this themselves.

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What's the story?

When Billy was born, the doctors said he had a tiny hole in his heart. His mom coped by making him a fine, one-of-a-kind stuffed toy, whose heart was the bell she'd saved from her own favorite doll, Nina, who fell apart many years ago. Billy's own heart was soon pronounced well enough for him to go home, and the toy, named Ollie, became his inseparable friend. But now it's six years later, and the threat hangs over them that Billy will grow up and forget Ollie, because, as they both admit, they never see grown-ups with toys. There's another threat, too: The villainous Zozo the Clown, a long-abandoned carnival attraction who went to the dark side when he lost the doll he loved, makes it his life work to steal away the favorite toys of kids, and he's set his sights on Billy's. When Zozo's evil mini-robots kidnap Ollie, Billy disobeys his parents and sneaks off in the dead of night to find and rescue his best friend.

Is it any good?

Kids will hold their favorite toy a little tighter as they follow William Joyce's tale of two lifelong companions, suddenly torn apart and determined to get back together. OLLIE'S ODYSSEY takes its title character, a handmade stuffed toy, and his boy, 6-year-old Billy, to dark, scary places in the course of their adventures, brought to life by Joyce's clever prose and colorful illustrations that range from cute to creepy. It also offers strong messages about kindness, bravery, teamwork, loyalty, doing the right thing, and never forgetting those you love. While the story's human protagonist is 6 years old, its emotional terrain is complex and sometimes treacherous as Billy grapples with deep issues, such as the difference between real life, pretending, and just plain lying and the wrongness of forgetting what's important:

"The kid was so sad that Billy felt sorry for her. Really sorry. Almost as sorry as he felt for the lost dog he saw one day when he was riding somewhere with his parents. They were in a whole different neighborhood, and the dog wanted to cross the street but was scared and shivering and skinny, and Billy yelled at his dad to stop the car so they could help the dog. But his dad said the dog would be fine. Billy wasn't so sure about that. And he thought that maybe grown-ups pretended, too. But that grown-up pretending seemed more like lying than pretending sometimes. Billy still worried about that dog. Even though he'd only glimpsed it for a few seconds, Billy knew he would never forget it. Not even when he was super old, like fifty. Or maybe even older. He would remember that poor, skinny dog forever."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories about kids and their relationships with their favorite toys. Why is this such a popular theme for stories, and which other examples do you know? How do you think this one compares?

  • Some people think clowns are funny and kind; others think they're weird and scary. There are plenty of stories from each side. What do you think? Are there any clown stories you really like?

  • Do you think it's true that grown-ups don't have toys? Or maybe their toys are just different?

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