Book Review: Dr. Critchlore's School For Minions
By: Sheila Grau
Illustrated By: Joe Sutphin
Published By: Amulet Books
Publication Date: March 17, 2015
Page Count: 288
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Middle Grades - Fantasy
Witches and wizards have their own schools. Heroes and sidekicks have their own schools. Shoot even evil overlords have their own schools. Sheila Grau’s book, Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, finally evens the playing field for minions and henchmen (or is that henchpersons?). The story opens at the beginning of Runt Higgins’s third year at minion school and follows the standard genre formula of students negotiating the hazards of both boarding school and other students of varying motives.
Despite the fairly typical plot progression, I found this book absolutely charming. Grau’s wit shines through every page from clever “quotes” at the beginning of each chapter (“Slow and steady wins the race, if you have minions to sabotage your opponent. – Ancient Minion Proverb”), to funny situations when different species of minions mix (multi-species food fight in the cafeteria!), to silly things she forces on her characters (Runt has to take on training a class of zombie minions). Most of the humor is directed at the middle grade reader, but I would swear Ms. Grau put some stuff in there just to amuse the adults. For example, the school is built on four pillars: Discipline, Duty, Determination, and On-Time Delivery. Dr. Critchlore’s hard-core, business school mindset had me giggling more than once.
The characters that populate Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions are surprisingly multi-dimensional. I loved seeing the different sides of each of the characters. Runt is a super-sweet werewolf who hasn’t morphed since he was seven and keeps getting stuck in the human dorm. Frankie (27th in a line of Frankenstein-like creatures) has daddy issues and is prone to losing his head. Darthin is smart enough to be an evil overlord, but he prefers the less competitive lifestyle of a minion.
For me, there were two negatives about this book. First, I wanted to see more about how the school interacts with the world at large. Is this fantasy world entirely run by competing evil overlords? What is the society and government of Stull (the country Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions is in) like? Second, I absolutely adore Runt and would gladly adopt him at any time which makes him seem a little too “nice” to want to work for an evil overlord. I kept waiting for him to have a moral crisis. I look forward to seeing these issues addressed in future books.
Bottom line: a delightfully fun read for middle grades. I am definitely passing this one to my 10, 11 and 13 year-olds to read. They’re gonna love it!
Welcome to Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, the premier trainer of minions for Evil Overlords everywhere. No student is prouder to be at Dr. Critchlore’s than Runt Higgins, a twelve-year-old werewolf. (At least he thinks he’s twelve. He was abandoned at the school as a baby, so he can’t say for sure.) Runt loves everything about Dr. Critchlore’s. He loves his classes—like History of Henchmen and Introduction to Explosives. He loves his friends—like Darthin the gargoyle and Syke the tree nymph. And he loves his foster family, who took him in when his wolf pack couldn’t.
But not everyone loves Dr. Critchlore’s as much as Runt. After a series of disasters, each worse than the next, it’s clear that someone is trying to shut the school down. It’s up to Runt, who knows the place better than anybody, to figure out who’s behind the attacks . . . and to save his home, and Dr. Critchlore himself, from total destruction.