March 8, 2022
Algonquin Young Readers
Blurb: Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the people to lose their library, their school, their park, and even their neighborliness. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever children of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are.
Then one day a child goes missing from the Orphan House. At the Mayor’s suggestion, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The Orphans know this can’t be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen.
But how can the Orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbors see the real villain in their midst?
You have probably heard some form of the quote “If you have to choose between being right or kind, be kind.” (Wayne W. Dyer) Newbery Medal Kelly Barnhill takes that one step further in her newest novel, The Ogress and the Orphans, by showing that kindness does not need to be separate from learning and knowledge but that they should work in tandem to make the world a better place.
Stone-in-the-Glen was once a very nice village to live in. There was a library, school, and trees. Infrastructure was tended to by taxes collected by the mayor. And, people were kind to each other and happy. A strange thing happened when a self-celebrated dragon slayer arrived in town, wooed everyone, and became the new mayor. The school and the library burned down and the trees died away and everything fell apart, including the townsfolk’s neighborliness. But for a long time, the mayor who glittered and collected their gold blinded them with his dazzle, and they were none the wiser.
After an Ogress moves to the outskirts of town (a deceitful dragon burned down the ogre village where she lived), good things begin to happen to the townsfolk. Her garden and orchard are magical places that provide, and she lives by the motto, the more you give, the more you have. The treats she bakes and makes, she gives anonymously to the townsfolk. Will her acts of kindness save the town? Or because she is so very different from the townsfolk, will she be an easy mark for a mayor who wants to control the people? And, will the Orphans who have lived with books, learned the magic of them, learned to speak to all of the animals, and understand kindness and intelligence and what is right and what is wrong, save them all?
All of us readers know that books are magic. And, if we forget, every once in a while, a kind and true and observant book will surface to remind us how wonderful books are and how wonderful we can become when we read them and talk about them and share their ideas. The Ogress and the Orphans is just that kind of book. People who read widely tend not to be swayed as easily by those things that glitter without substance.
Bartleby was in tears. “Kindness exists. Can’t you see? And it makes more kindness!”
The Ogress and the Orphans takes on the themes of deceit, magic, kindness, loneliness, love, and what it means to be a neighbor (and others I’ve not mentioned). Some of the writing and ideas may be lost on the younger ages of the reading audience but I don’t believe that would stop them from reading and being entertained. Who doesn’t love kind ogres, shape-shifting dragons, and very beautiful crows? This one should nourish the brains of those open to magic and kindness and, of course, books. The Ogress and the Orphans is a not only a story for dark times, but a salve that can help heal by showing that being kind is a good thing and that everyone deserves it.
While, at times, The Ogress and the Orphans was long and sometimes repetitive, this never took away from my enjoyment in reading and I’d happily read about the ogress and the orphans again.
How easy it would be to continue to discuss this book with you (I have many notes, ha) but I believe that this one would be better for you to read and be charmed by.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Note: I will just mention that I have noticed in the past when I read a book that either subtly or plainly references the dark climate existing politically and socially that there is a backlash from readers (and some who didn’t read or finish) who are offended and rate the book poorly. I thought about this as I was reading, because I expect it to happen, but also see how ironic that would be because this is a book about ideas and how people deny “verifiable facts,” are suspicious even in the face of good things, and want to build walls–literally and metaphorically. Tweens and teenagers are far more in-tune than many give them credit for and need books that not only inform but show that being good counts for something. Nice guys don’t finish last. And, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we promoted kindness and didn’t cut down all of the trees and could speak to crows and love all animals and people? I certainly think so.