The Ogress and the Orphans
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Parable of books, kindness, inclusion gets heavy handed.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Books and knowledge are much celebrated, as the library was once the heart of the community, and assorted brave souls struggle to save them. The kids study constantly, including much philosophy from classical times on the nature of goodness, other themes. One kid is very fond of logic. The Ogress is an avid learner and a skilled, knowledgeable inventor whose creations play an important, positive role. Long-lost books on civil engineering turn out to be useful. Narrator uses words like "rapacious" and "dyspepsia."
The Ogress's motto is "The more you give, the more you have." Her friends the crows warn her, "No good deed goes unpunished." Both are true as the story unfolds, but kindness, empathy, respect, understanding, and belonging ultimately carry the day. A character wonders, "What is the use of truth when people refuse to believe verifiable facts?"
Positive Role Models
All the orphans -- a loving, close-knit group with never a whine about the hardships of their lives -- are diligent, smart, hardworking, and kind, with many individual strengths, from logic to storytelling, that play an important role. An extremely self-sacrificing kid runs away from the only home she's ever known so there will be one less mouth to feed. Myron and Matron, the old couple who have cared for generations of orphans, love each other and the kids, even though their strength and resources are giving out. The Ogress is kind, inventive, helpful, and wants nothing but to belong, to love and be loved, and is often cruelly foiled, but perseveres. Caught up in plots of the villainous mayor, townspeople are a mixed bag, with a lot of meanness and mutual suspicion but the occasional moment of listening to their better angels.
Story takes place in a folktale/fantasy world, but characters belong to different species (humans, crows, ogres, dragons). The issue of whether to view one another with welcoming kindness or suspicion looms large. Also learning one another's languages, and what a difference that makes. A pair of orphans are universally treated as twins despite the fact that from their body type to their skin color they look nothing alike. Different abilities -- or lack of them -- help define the characters: one orphan kid has a missing leg and gets around on crutches; another's two eyes see things differently (one shadows and light, one detail), which he says is an important reminder that there are different ways to look at things; the Ogress is very smart and inventive but can't read; a stone sees all, says little, but tells a tale only some can hear. Characters with different learning styles and worldviews contribute to a better understanding when they talk among themselves.
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Violence & Scariness
A dragon assumes the identity of other creatures by wearing the skins he's taken from their corpses. A lot of weapons are directed against the Ogress, who just wants to belong, but it's her heart that's broken. Her defenders, the crows, often pelted with stones by the townsfolk, attack her attackers with beak and claw, doing a lot of damage, advising each other to go for the eyes. A dog blinded by an abusive master finds a haven with the Ogress. A beloved old man's heart is slowly giving out. The butcher realizes "he had never killed anything in its life that wasn't tied up first." The massacre of trees by humans to build a town has far-reaching consequences.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adult characters are occasionally described as drinking alcohol, leading in some cases to a night of drinking instead of problem-solving, and in another to drunken, threatening behavior.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Ogress and the Orphans, by Newbery Medal recipient Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon), is a parable about kindness, empathy, neighborliness, civic-mindedness, and the importance of libraries, in which the title characters -- scorned and mistreated by townspeople -- befriend and protect one another, to the betterment of all. As the author remarks in the afterword, the story springs from the experience of living through an era of pandemic and political divisiveness. Its steady drumbeat of messages about "the more you give, the more you have" and how "lovely" it is when everyone cheerfully funds public goods, from relentlessly positive but often one-note characters who exist mainly to embody an attitude, can get oppressive. But there are heartrendingly relatable moments, as when orphans ponder losing the only home they've ever known, when an old couple cope with the fact that one of them is dying, or when the Ogress's years of hidden kindness are repaid with violence and harsh words. There's a hissable villain in the town mayor, who's actually a rogue dragon who's learned to weaponize empathy to set the citizens at each other's throats as part of his plan to seize all of the town's wealth for himself. There's a lot of misunderstanding and cruelty as things unfold, but in the end, love rules the day.
Where to Read
Based on 2 parent reviews
Excellent story, beautifully done
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I was so excited to read this...
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What's the Story?
The town of Stone-in-the-Glen, whose inhabitants include THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS, was once a lovely place, with trees, flowers, fountains, gardens, and a library that was a wonder of the world. But years ago -- strangely coinciding with the arrival of an extremely shiny new mayor -- things went bad, as the library burned to the ground, fires destroyed the trees and gardens, and people who had once cheerfully helped and looked out for one another now began to view each other with suspicion and mistrust. The orphans and their caregivers, once generously provided for, now struggle. The centuries-old Ogress, meanwhile, just wants a place to belong, and arrives on the outskirts of town hoping to make a home where she can love and be loved. Hardworking, clever, and kind, she showers the villagers with secret, bountiful generosity. Her friends the crows warn her that no good deed goes unpunished. With misunderstanding and ill will everywhere, it seems like they might be right. But when a series of events brings Ogress and orphans together, maybe there's a glimmer of hope.
Is It Any Good?
Kelly Barnhill's fable of kind outcasts, plucky underdogs, a villain who draws power from distraction and division, and a long-lost library is full of heart, beauty, and the celebration of learning. The Ogress and the Orphans both seek love, kindness, family, friendship, and belonging, especially as an antidote to the dark unkindness around them, while the villain who's managed to set neighbor against neighbor while stealing their wealth is a sneaky and formidable foe. Messages of civic virtue, with everyone contributing goods, services, and skills for the common good, are a steady, un-nuanced drumbeat in a world where these things are now lacking and the characters miss the old days, and even readers who cheer the sentiment may find the repetition oppressive. But there are plenty of cheer-worthy moments where characters shine, and the cynical but helpful crows are a delight throughout.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about stories like The Ogress and the Orphans, in which villains stir people up against those who look and act different -- or even belong to different species -- because it feeds their own power. Where else do you see this happening, in stories or in real life?
Empathy -- being able to understand and feel others' emotions and viewpoints -- is an essential social-emotional skill. As we see in the example of the mayor, it can have a dark side: If you understand what makes people tick, you can use their hopes and fears to manipulate them. Do you see this happening in the people around you? How do you stand up against this?
Are there any books you would rush to save from a fire? Why would you save those particular books? Who are you saving them for?
- Author: Kelly Barnhill
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Brothers and Sisters, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
- Publication date: March 8, 2022
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 21, 2022
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Where to Read
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