Alistair Grim’s Odditorium
Author: Gregory Funaro
Illustrator: Vivienne To
Published January 6th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
Summary: Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master.
All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim’s trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own.
There’s no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium’s magic from falling into evil hands-and his new family from suffering a terrible fate.
Grubb knows he’s no hero. He’s just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.
About the Author: Gregory Funaro is the NY Times Best Selling author of the Odditorium series from Disney-Hyperion. He grew up in Cranston, Rhode Island, and wrote his first story, “The Ghost in the Window”, in the fourth grade. He considers this to be his finest work, but unfortunately it has been lost to time. Following high school Greg majored in theatre at the University of New Hampshire, and after various acting gigs, received his AM in Theatre Arts from Brown University and an MFA in Acting from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. Greg teaches drama at East Carolina University, and spends far too much time on the internet looking for vintage lunchboxes.
Review: Take a bit of Oliver Twist add in some Harry Potter and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory mix it with the snark of Lemony Snicket and Frankenstein’s monster then top it off with some Emerald Atlas and (more) Harry Potter adventure with mythology and fairy tale sprinkles and voila! You have yourself Alistair Grim’s Odditorium. But do not let me fool you into thinking that Gregory Funaro’s story is like anything you’ve read before because even though it alludes to many fantastical adventures, it is its own story through and through.
What makes Odditorium soar is not just the amazing adventure that Grubb and Mr. Grim go on (because it is amazing!), but the cast of characters that accompany them. Without Mrs. Pinch, Nigel, Mack, Lord Dreary, the samurai, and others, the book just wouldn’t be the same. Gregory Funaro did an amazing job creating a fully-developed supporting cast of characters that help push this adventure to the next level.
Author Interview: Thank you so much to Gregory for being willing to answer some questions for us!
Kellee: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium seems to allude to many traditional stories such as mythology and Grimm fairy tales. What other pieces of literature inspired your story?
Gregory Funaro: The works of Charles Dickens, especially Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. The setting is Dickensian London, and you’ll find a lot of common themes from Victorian literature running throughout the series, such as hidden identities, unrequited love, upper-class destiny, etc. There are echoes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course, and the fantasy works of Lloyd Alexander (The Chronicles of Prydain), but like so many Dickens novels, underneath all the magic and adventure, Odditorium is just a simple story of one boy’s journey toward acceptance and self-discovery.
K: Grubb has quite an odd name–how did that come about?
GF: His original name was Twip–a mash-up of Twist (Oliver) and Pip from Great Expectations. However, one day when I was writing in my office (the building is very old) I spied what looked like a maggot in the cracks between the floor tiles. It ended up being just a rogue grain of rice from some sushi I’d had a few days earlier, but the “maggot” sparked the idea for grub. The extra “b” was just something I threw in there for fun.
K: The illustrations in the novel really help bring it to life and seem to perfectly embody your words. What was your process with working with the illustrator?
GF: Along with the editors, at the beginning of the publication process I was very involved in the initial shape explorations of the Odditorium itself, but after that, as far as I know Vivienne To was pretty much on her own. I was also involved in some tweaking of illustrations along the way to make sure they jived with the story–especially in Aquaticum–but in terms of conceptualizing characters and whatnot, all that came from Vivienne. Fine by me. She is amazing.
K: Although the story is primarily adventure and fantasy, you threw in some humor throughout (I particularly love Mack!). How important do you think it was to add that to your story?
GF: Indispensable. You must have humor even in the most tragic of stories. You need a break once in a while from all the tension(Shakespeare was the master at this) and having a humorous character like Mack (who can also be serious if needed), provides a much richer experience for the reader. I think having a “comedian” in children’s books is especially important because kids can relate. However, you have to be careful, because too much (i.e., just throwing in a bunch of random jokes or snarky comments) can get annoying very quickly.
K: You majored in and teach theater–how did you find yourself writing for young adults?
GF: I actually started writing thrillers during my spare time about eight years ago. I had a couple published (they weren’t very good) and then moved over to children’s literature after the birth of my daughter. Oddly, though, I didn’t see Odditorium as a children’s book at first. In the original premise, Nigel (Mr. Grim’s right hand man) was going to be the focus of a story about Frankenstein’s monster being reunited with his long lost daughter. That idea rolled around in my head until the following summer, and by the time I started Odditorium, it was a children’s book, the monster’s daughter had somehow become Grubb, and the focus was on his journey with Alistair Grim. Nigel and his daughter’s story still exists in the book, but it’s one of the subplots.
K: Book 2 is out now! Can you give us a non-spoilery peak into what Alistair and Grubb are up to next?
GF: Book 2, Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum, centers around an underwater quest for the legendary sword Excalibur–the only weapon powerful enough to penetrate Prince Nightshade’s armor. That’s right, the evil prince and his gang of baddies are back, along with some new characters, including a banshee assassin and a witch named Mad Malmuirie, who wants revenge on Grim for stealing her magical objects. The rest of the Odditorium’s crew is back, too, and they all journey to the mythical realm of Avalon, where the story takes a magical turn that not even Alistair Grim could have predicted.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First and foremost, I think this book is going to find some major love in libraries. If we can get this into students’ hands, they are going to talk about it and pass it around. It is that kind of book. Students will want to talk about it.
In addition, aspects of the book can definitely be used to discuss allusion. Teachers can pull out excerpts of the text and excerpts of the alluded text to compare and contrast and look at how the author made parts of or ideas from the classic text come alive in this new story.
Discussion Questions: Do you believe what Mr. Grim did to help Nigel was right?; What part does Mrs. Pinch play in the story?; What stories/books does Alistair Grim’s Odditorium remind you of? Which parts of the story remind you of what story/book?; Did the author give you any clues (foreshadowing) about Grubb’s true identity?; What do you think happened to Kiyoko?
Read This If You Loved: Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, Emerald Atlas by John Stephens, Series of Unfortunate Events (series) by Lemony Snicket, The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley, The Vanishing Islands by Barry Wolverton, The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson