Sonderbooks Stand-out

Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill

The Ogress and the Orphans

by Kelly Barnhill

Review posted May 30, 2022.
Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 392 pages.
Review written May 3, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 Children's Speculative Fiction

This book is by the Newbery-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I think I actually liked The Ogress and the Orphans even better.

This is an old-fashioned fantasy tale, with just a touch of magic here and there and fantasy characters like an ogress and a dragon. We learn about the village of Stone-in-the-Glen, which used to be a lovely place. But since the library burned down, things haven't been the same. After that the school burned down, and a sinkhole opened up at the park, and people started to keep to themselves. An ogress lives on the edge of town, an ogress who likes to make delicious treats for the townsfolk to leave on their doorsteps at night. There's also an Orphan House in the village, where fifteen orphans live. The town used to provide money for the Orphan House, but it's been a while since anything has come in. Another important person in the story is the mayor.

The town of Stone-in-the-Glen had a mayor, and everyone loved him very much. How could they not? He cut a fine figure and had a blinding shock of blond hair and a smile so bright they had to shade their eyes. He glittered when he spoke. He was well mannered and seemed so sensible. When people went to him with their problems, well, they came away feeling so fine that they completely forgot what had vexed them in the first place. And isn't that, really, what a mayor is for?

The fifteen orphans are delightful characters. Their names are alphabetical, with the oldest being Anthea, then Bartleby, then Cass, so you can keep them straight. The Orphan House is run by Matron and her husband Myron, and the children all help look after one another. Some of the books from the old library got transferred to the Reading Room of the Orphan House, and some of the orphans have learned surprising things, such as how to speak Crow.

There's a lot of setting the stage, but tension builds when the people in town decide the ogress must be at fault for a recent problem. It's up to the orphans to save the day and set things to rights while they're at it.

When I finished this book, I had a big smile on my face. My only complaint was that it took a very long time to actually finish it. It seems long for a simple story suitable for young readers.

However, I think this book would be truly perfect for a read-aloud. It would be wonderful for classroom after-lunch reading sessions or nightly bedtime stories. And it would work for a wide range of ages. In that case, the length would be a feature -- all the more reading sessions! The chapters are short, so you could decide how many to cover each night with lots of flexibility. The voice of the narrator is a storyteller's voice, and I find myself wishing I had a child to read it to myself.