Ollie's Odyssey

Illustrated by William Joyce
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About The Book

From the creator of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and The Guardians of Childhood comes an grand adventure of valor, friendship, and a look into the mysterious world of favorite toys.

In the secret realm of toys, there are many mysteries.

There is the Code of the Toys, which is as ancient as childhood.

There’s also the magic of becoming a child’s favorite, the highest honor in the Toy World.

Made by hand by Billy’s mother, Ollie is a special toy, “a toy who will matter.” He becomes Billy’s best friend, confidant, pal, and yes, Billy’s “favorite.”

But there are villains in the Toy World, and Zozo, the clown king, is the most feared. He and his toy henchman (the Creeps) have sworn to steal and imprison favorite toys until they forget their children and become forever lost.

When Ollie is toynapped, Billy must rescue his beloved favorite from Zozo’s subterranean lair in the old Carnival Place, past the park, through the woods, and into the night.

Never has a journey of ten blocks been more epic.


Ollie’s Odyssey 1 Lost and Found
When Billy was born he was nearly lost. He came into this world with a small hole in his heart, and for the first few days of his life, he was seldom with his mother and father. He was shuffled from room to room through the maze of hallways that made up the hospital where he was born. The doctors did many tests on Billy, mostly to see how large this hole was and if, as one doctor said, “It was something to be really worried about.”

When Billy’s mother and father were told about this hole, they were much more than worried. They were afraid in a way they had not felt since they were small children, since before they had learned the words to describe their feelings. But there were no words that could describe or give comfort to the deep unease and desperation they now felt. A new baby is suddenly the dearest thing alive to a mother and father. In one miraculous moment a bond forms that is stronger than any other in life.

Billy has a hole in his heart. Will he be all right? He must be. This was all they would allow themselves to think.

So as they sat at the hospital, waiting, waiting, waiting to hear any news, Billy’s parents were in a quiet, fearful agony of not knowing. When kids are afraid they hide under the covers, or cry, or scream, “I’m scared!” But grown-ups sit very still and try to act like everything is okay—even if they feel like hiding or crying or screaming, they usually will not. This is a grown-up thing called “coping,” which is just a polite way of saying they are terrified.

Billy’s father coped by holding his hands together very tightly and clenching his jaw until it ached. And his mother coped by making a small stuffed toy for Billy. “Toy” is a word that feels pleasant in thoughts and memories. But “toy” is also a limited word. Under the right circumstances a toy can become so very much more than something to be played with or amused by.

It can become miraculous.

This toy that Billy’s mother was sewing was already special. It was made of various kinds of deliciously comfortable fabric, which she had chosen with great care. And its shape was very pleasing. It looked like a teddy bear, but for reasons that Billy’s mother could not explain, she had also given it long ears that were vaguely rabbit-like. So it wasn’t really a bear or a rabbit; it was something all its own. It wore a blue-striped hoodie and a red scarf around its neck and had a simple, hopeful face that gave the impression of friendliness.

Billy’s mother had a keen eye and a mother’s instinct to guide her as she made this funny little rabbit toy. Her sewing was expert. This toy may have been homemade, but it didn’t look odd or shabby—it looked steadfast and unusually charming. This is a toy that will matter, she told herself.

As she sat in the hospital waiting room, trying not to be scared for baby Billy, she was adding a last bit to the toy that would set it apart from any other in the world. She gently sewed into its chest a small heart. The heart was made from a scrap of fabric that came from something very dear to her—a toy she had loved as a child. The toy that had been her favorite.

She had called that toy Nina. It was a lovely doll, and the first time she’d ever held it, the name popped into her head and somehow seemed perfect.

Nina had been with her constantly through her childhood, and even when the doll had been loved till it had fallen to shreds, Billy’s mom had kept a bit of its once-lovely dress and the tiny bell that had been inside of Nina.

So now these tokens of her own childhood would live on in this toy for her Billy. The bell was inside the heart, and though the blue cotton fabric was packed snugly around it, it gave a faint but pleasant jingle every time the toy was moved.

When Billy’s mom made the last stitch, she closed her eyes for a moment as a thousand memories of Nina flooded back to her. But this remembrance was interrupted. She realized the doctor was standing there. He was holding Billy, who was wrapped in blankets and not moving.

For a moment the parents’ hearts stopped. But the doctor was smiling at them, and they heard Billy make a yawning sound.

“It’s a very small hole,” the doctor explained. “A few years ago we wouldn’t even have been able to detect it. It should close up on its own. And Billy will never even know he had it.”

Billy was okay.

Billy’s parents’ fear faded away, and before they knew it they were holding him. Billy was tightly clutching one of the toy’s ears in his surprisingly strong baby grip. He made a funny little sound: OLLY OLLY OLLY. And in that instant Billy’s parents knew the toy’s name: Oliver, Ollie for short.

What they never realized was that another small bit of magic had occurred.

Ollie knew his name too.

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide to

Ollie’s Odyssey

By William Joyce

About the Book

From the creator of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and the Guardians of Childhood comes a grand adventure of valor, friendship, and a look into the mysterious world of favorite toys.

In the secret realm of toys, there are many mysteries. There is the Code of the Toys, which is as ancient as childhood. There’s also the magic of becoming a child’s favorite, the highest honor in the Toy World.

Made by hand by Billy’s mother, Ollie is a special toy, “a toy who will matter.” He becomes Billy’s best friend, confidant, pal, and yes, Billy’s “favorite.”

But there are villains in the Toy World, and Zozo, the clown king, is the most feared. He and his toy henchman, the Creeps, have sworn to steal and imprison favorite toys until they forget their children and become forever lost.

When Ollie is toy-napped, Billy must rescue his beloved favorite from Zozo’s subterranean lair in the old Carnival Place, past the park, through the woods, and into the night.

Never has a journey of ten blocks been more epic.

Discussion Questions

1. What defines an odyssey?

2. What does it mean to be afraid? After Billy was born, Billy’s parents became afraid. What caused Billy’s mother and father to be afraid? How do grown-ups cope with their emotions?

3. As Billy’s mother made a toy for Billy, what special materials did she use? Was this toy a miraculous toy? How did this toy get its name?

4. As Billy’s mother stitched the last stitch in Ollie, her mind was filled with a thousand memories of Nina. Have you ever seen, smelled or heard something that brought back strong memories? Share this experience.

5. Compare Ollie’s life beginnings to Billy’s. How did this change as Billy started going through phases?

6. Every night Billy’s mother instructed Ollie to keep Billy safe. What did she mean by that?

7. What was a Bonk-a-Zozo? What was the purpose of Bonk-a-Zozo? Describe the inventor of Zozo. How did he treat Zozo? How did he treat the children who came to his booth? How did Zozo feel when a child missed bonking him?

8. Did you have a favorite toy at one time? What made this toy special to you? Was there any special way that you carried this toy with you? What kinds of adventures did you have?

9. One day the inventor brought a new toy to Bonk-a-Zozo. What was the toy? How was she different from the other toys? As time passes, what was Zozo’s feelings toward this toy? What reason did Zozo have for not making friends with the other toys? With whom did Zozo make a connection?

10. Zozo was unable to forget his memory of a little girl walking away with the toy dancer, and saying, “You will be my favorite.” How did this memory affect Zozo?

11. When hard times descended upon Bonk-a-Zozo, and the toys became distraught, who said, “All will be well, Zozo will find a way”? What effect did this have on Zozo? What effect did it have on the toys? As time passed and nothing happened, how did Zozo feel? What happened inside Zozo that rarely happens to toys?

12. Time passes and a new owner takes over the Bonk-a-Zozo. Discuss the differences between the original owner and the new owner. Who would you prefer to run Bonk-a-Zozo? Why did the clientele for the Bonk-a-Zozo change? How did Zozo react to this change?

13. One little girl was able to knock Zozo down. When she hit Zozo, the hard ball hit Zozo directly over his heart. What emotional change happened to Zozo? What was broken?

14. Discuss the rules your parents insist you obey. Are they similar to the rules Billy and Ollie must obey? What are the consequences for disobeying?

15. Discuss the many reasons for the decline and fall of Zozo. How did he go from being a favorite game at the carnival to the toy seeking revenge on favorite toys?

16. As Billy and Ollie discussed not taking Ollie to a wedding, Billy mentioned that grown-ups do not have toys. Discuss if this is a true statement. Where do parents’ toys go? Billy’s mother points to her chest when asked where her favorite toy is. What does this mean?

17. How did Billy manage to take Ollie to the wedding? How much planning was involved? How did this method of transportation help the Creeps capture Ollie?

18. Who are the Creeps? What were their names? Who was the boss of the Creeps? Each Creep had a specific task: What were the tasks? Discuss the necessity for the Creeps to work together, plan together, and cooperate together to capture children’s favorite toys? What did they do with the favorite toys?

19. When Zozo got quiet it meant that he was remembering. The Creeps didn’t like these quiet moods. What was Zozo like when he had the “quiets”? What would happen after one of Zozo’s quiet moods? What memory was Zozo fixated on?

20. Discuss Zozo’s comment: “IT IS NOT MY FAVORITE.” What was Zozo’s favorite? Why was Zozo so angry? What did Zozo mean when he called Ollie just a plush?

21. Was it a wise idea for Billy to head out in the dead of night to look for Ollie? How would your family react if you snuck out at night?

22. Billy prepared for his adventure by filling his backpack with what he thought he would need. Discuss the items Billy took with him and why he felt they were necessary. Can you think of anything else he needed? Of all the things he took, what do you think was the most important item and why?

23. What was Zozo’s Room of Darkness? What does this room tell you about Zozo’s personality? What special item does Zozo have in this room?

24. Discuss the memories of Zozo, the imprisoned toys, Billy and his parents, and Ollie. Why are these memories so important? Are all memories happy ones? How did remembering help Ollie escape from Zozo? How do memories contribute to one of the themes of the novel?

25. Ollie wondered if kids forget their toys, and this made him worry. Ollie wondered about the difference between pretend and real life. What are the differences between the two? Does pretending help one become more prepared for real life?

26. Describe in your own words the characteristics of Can Man. What did his actions tell you about his character? How did Can Man make Ollie feel?

27. How did Ollie react after he finally met up with Billy, and Billy just tossed him as far as he could? Who helped Ollie in his time of despair? What brings all the junkyard friends to Ollie’s assistance?

28. While the Creeps dragged Billy in a burlap bag toward Zozo’s workroom, what was Billy able to see and do?

29. Was Billy correct in thinking that leaving a trail of toys behind was safer than the crumbs that Hansel and Gretel used to help them find their way home?

30. Was Billy insightful when he thought that grown-ups sometimes pretend? He felt that when parents pretend, they are actually lying. Do you agree with him?

31. What did Super Creep tell Zozo was the reason for kidnapping Billy? How did he think Billy was going to be able to help Zozo?

32. As Ollie headed out to rescue Billy, he decided that being a real-life hero was stronger than a pretend hero. What did Ollie mean by that thought? He also felt that after this experience was over he would never be the same. How do you think Ollie will have changed? Do you think that Billy changed?

33. Ollie and his friends sang a song for the horses on the merry-go-round. This gave the horses more heart and strength than they thought they had. Ollie thought remembering was a powerful thing. What did he mean by this? What song did they sing to the horses?

34. Discuss the change in dynamics between Billy being the protector of Ollie to Ollie being the protector of Billy. Had Billy always been Ollie’s protector?

35. Throughout the story, fireflies played an important role. What was the significance of the fireflies?

36. What did Zozo need to remember so he could dissolve his hate? When he was able to do that, what did he do for the ones in danger due to the destruction he caused?

37. When the fireflies made images of both Nina and Zozo, all the toys whispered Zozo’s name. Billy did not. Discuss why Billy didn’t, but Ollie did with his hand over his heart.

38. As this adventure came to an end, Ollie wondered about the different types of good-byes there are. Discuss why some goodbyes are harder to say than others.

39. Consider how Ollie would try to make Billy laugh so that he wouldn’t feel scared or sad. On this occasion, saying goodbye to their new friends was a different kind of sadness and he didn’t feel it would be appropriate to make a joke. How had this adventure changed both Billy and Ollie?

40. How did Billy and Ollie feel as they saw the police cars with flashing lights outside their home? How would you react if you came home to police cars outside your home? Was Billy in trouble for having an adventure? Discuss the different ways Billy could explain his leaving the house at night.

41. Is the innocence of childhood gone from Billy’s life? Will his life be forever changed? If so, in what ways would his life be changed? Will the love between Billy and Ollie change?

42. What was the Code of the Toys? Did Ollie stick to the code or did he break it?

43. As people age, they tend to tell stories of their past. What is the purpose of these stories, especially if they’ve been told over and over again?

Extension Activities

1. If you could own a game at a carnival, what would it be? Would it be easy to win a prize or a challenge for the most skillful player? Write a description of your game with instructions on how to play. Include an illustration to demonstrate the mechanics of the game.

2. Write a story concerning an adventure you had with your favorite toy. If you can’t remember one, make one up!

3. If you could be a Creep, which kind would you like to be? Write a poem about your job as a Creep. Would you prefer to be a member of the Junkyard Gang? If so write a poem about the job of a Junkyard Gang member.

4. Have the students bring in pictures from their parents’ youth. Are there toys in these pictures? If so, what type of toys did they have? Looking at their parents’ pictures, do the students see resemblances between parent and student?

5. Write an interview between Billy and his parents or write an interview between Billy and the police. How will Billy explain to his parents the fight with the toys? Does he tell the truth, or lie so they believe him, or make a compromise and tell half-truths so he is believed?

6. Using found materials, make a Creep, a Tinny, or a member of the Junkyard Gang. Compare these toys with the rest of the class. How are they alike or different?

7. Make a shadow box of one of the scenes from the book, such as the playground, the carnival, the junkyard, or Tunnel of Love. Then, write a description of the scene you chose on a notecard, displaying it next to the shadowbox.

Guide prepared by Lynn Dobson, librarian at East Brookfield Elementary School, East Brookfield, MA.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

photograph (c) Tony Reans

William Joyce does a lot of stuff but children’s books are his true bailiwick (The Guardians, Dinosaur Bob, George Shrinks, and the #1 New York Times bestselling The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is also his Academy Award–winning short film, to name a few). He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana. Talk to William Joyce and look at upcoming work at @HeyBillJoyce on Twitter and Instagram.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books (April 2016)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781442473553
  • Grades: 2 - 6
  • Ages: 7 - 11
  • Lexile ® 830L

Raves and Reviews

The bond betweena child and a toy is a very special thing. For six-year-old Billy thatconnection exists with Ollie, the stuffed animal his mother made him when hewas born. Resembling a teddy bear with rabbit ears, the endearing Ollie isimportant for a reason beyond being Billy’s favorite; sewn into Ollie’s chestis a tinkling bell from Nina, the precious childhood toy of Billy’s mother.With a seasoned storyteller's skill, Joyce sets the stage for an incredibleadventure, using Billy’s childish perspective (and vocabulary) to convey thevastness and scariness of the world beyond one’s backyard, as well as to createa place where toys can come to life. Not far from Billy’s house lie the remainsof an abandoned carnival, where an embittered toy clown, Zozo, has growncrooked and cruel with hate. His army of Creeps (wicked minions built fromscraps) kidnaps the toys Zozo despises most—favorites—and his sights are set onOllie. Joyce’s beautiful color illustrations put the sweetness of Billy andOllie’s relationship and the creepiness of Zozo’s underworld on full display.Sensitive readers may find Zozo too frightening, but many will get a thrillfrom the perilous, high-stakes adventure, where bravery and friendship reign supreme.

HIGH-DEMANDBACKSTORY: Astalwart of children’s literature, Joyce will drive inherent interest evenfurther with an author tour.

—Julia Smith

– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, March 1, 2016

A cloth "teddy rabbit"and his beloved boy rescue one another from a toy clown gone bad. Loading hislatest plushy epic with precious observations—"In the realm of toys beingfavorited was a special distinction. It was as yum as it got"—andpop-culture references, Joyce pits 6 ½-year-old Billy and his homemadecompanion Ollie against Zozo, a wooden carnival clown whose love for aballerina doll named Nina has, after years of separation and physical neglect,transmogrified into hatred for all toys that are beloved of humans. When Zozo'sarmy of Creeps ("stunted, scroungy creatures" made from bits oftrash) "toynap" Ollie, Billy sets out with his lightsaber and somesnacks to rescue him. When the Creeps capture the little white boy, though, theroles reverse. With a band of recruits and inspired by a broken typewriter's"Damn t e torpedoes, full speed a ead," Ollie returns to subterraneanDark Carnival Place for a brisk dust-up with the baddies. The narrative isprinted on artificially age-stained paper and punctuated with largeillustrations—of toys loved to shabbiness and genuinely sinisteradversaries—that add golden-toned atmosphere to the "huge a-venture."In the end, the message is no different from countless of its sentimental ilk:"It didn't matter if something was pretend or real; if it was remembered,then it was true." Velveteen Rabbit and Toy Story meet Phantom of theOpera. For better or worse. (Fantasy. 10-13)

– Kirkus Reviews, 3/15/16

Joyce (the Guardians of Childhood series) delivers a deliciousremix of classic movie and storybook themes: imprisoned toys, talking junkyardfriends, and a doll lost a generation ago. Six-and-a-half-year-old Billyreturns from a family wedding to find that his beloved stuffed toy, Ollie, isgone. Readers know that he has been abducted by miniature mechanical henchmenand taken to the lair of Zozo, an eerie clown ruined by his own bitterness.Timid Ollie manages to escape and even spies Billy for a moment, only to findhimself tossed away. Has Billy renounced him? In a rousing climax, Ollie andhis loyal junkyard allies overcome Zozo and free the toys: "Okay," hetells his troops, "Our plan is gonna be: do some Robin Hood, and some Usethe Force Luke, and some Trojan Horse, and some... Yellow Submarine."Though tense moments abound in this all-boy adventure, it's always clear thatBilly and Ollie will prevail. Joyce's irresistible illustrations and joyouswordplay ("I am the Grand High Safemaster of Planet Billy," Ollietells himself) are icing on the cake. Ages 7–11.

– Publishers Weekly, March 7, 2016

Many children’s books have been written about the secret life of toys, but Joyce’s storytelling and original characters elevate this novel. Meet Billy and his favorite plush toy, Ollie, a bear/rabbit mash-up Billy’s mother made for him with a remnant from her own cherished girlhood doll. Billy and Ollie grow up together over the course of six years, sharing secrets, imaginary escapades, and observations about the baffling adult world.The friends’ bliss is threatened by the existence of an underground kingdom of abandoned toys who have never known the love of a child. The ruler of this kingdom is Zozo, a former carnival-game clown doll whose heartbreaking backstory is the stuff of tragic opera. Zozo’s anguish compels him to imprison any toy that’s been “favorited” by a child, and his minions—the darkly menacing yet comically maniacal Creeps—kidnap Ollie, setting up the novel’s conflict.Billy leaves home in search of his lost companion, leading to an epic battle between Zozo’s army and a team of charmingly odd heroes Ollie befriends,including a tin can, pet rock, and bottle opener. The third-person narration retains a storyteller’s wisdom as it shifts between Billy and Ollie’s naive perspectives; pacing is leisurely despite Zozo’s sinister presence being introduced fairly early in the plot. Joyce’s full-page illustrations in rich but muted tones capture deeply emotional moments and reinforce the novel’s nostalgic mood. VERDICT With all the feel of a modern classic, this is an odyssey readers of all age swill want to take again and again; a wonderful choice for read-alouds.

– School Library Journal, May 1, 2016

Awards and Honors

  • Bank Street Best Books of the Year
  • Rhode Island Children's Book Award Nominee

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