OGRESS vs. MAPMAKER: Battle of the Fantasies
Hello everyone and welcome to our (not so) highly anticipated BATTLE OF THE FANTASY post. Today Steven will represent THE LAST MAPMAKER by Christina Soontornvat and Emily will represent OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS by Kelly Barnhill.
Steven and Emily have approximately 50 words to argue for their titles in each of the six theme categories (text examples do not count for words) and then it is up to you the reader to voice your opinions and vote for a winner in each category and overall.
NOTE: This is not at all how they do things on the actual committee and we will likely have both books on our final list, but this is a fun comparison exercise!
OGRESS: 400 pages of excellent prose, vivid description, dynamic characters and a fantastical plot that mirrors reality form a creative modern day fantasy classic. Barnhill smoothly uses multiple perspectives to convey a turn of events on a city that “used to be nice” and eloquently relays how heroes and villains may present differently than expected.
MAPMAKER: Sort of a classic adventure/fantasy, but one that feels unique and fresh. What seems like a straightforward story twists in surprising directions. Characters also turn out to be more than what they seem at first. The consistently engaging writing style relates events and introduces characters while leaving room for the reader to respond, react, and figure things out for themselves.
Interpretation of Theme
MAPMAKER: Individual ambition vs. honor, kindness, greater good: seen in Sai, but also Rian and Paiyoon. People are more complicated than they first appear: Rian of course, but also Mud, Boo, Grebe…; The devastation of war and conquest:
[Captain Sangra to Sai]: “…and what has it been for? So that we could make Mangkon into a great empire? An empire of cowards and thieves – that’s what we are…”277
OGRESS: One may say the themes of questioning stereotypes, darkness in light, community, kindness and truth are overstated but I believe Barnhill deliberately overstated these themes to showcase how important they are. She wants the reader to “Listen” and constantly think about these themes throughout the book and connect them to each scene.
Books flew out the melting windows like panicked birds, their wings bright and phosphorescent. They were beautiful for a moment, the town remembers, the way a heart is beautiful in the moment before it breaks.
Development of a Plot
MAPMAKER: The setup for the voyage comes while we’re simultaneously learning about Sai’s world. Once on the ship, many small threads of tension: Sai’s secret work without Paiyoon’s knowledge; Boo as the stowaway; Sai’s exciting but dangerous alliance with Rian. Bo’s story did stretch plot credulity to a degree, though.
[Sai learning that she can join the voyage]: “A year away from Mud and Catfish. A year away from the Fens. I had been saving my money for a ticket away from my life, and here was a free ride.”53
OGRESS: Layers and perspectives contribute to the larger plot: what happened to the town and why. And the smaller plot, who are these characters (especially the orphans), what are their individual journeys and how they impact this town. It all melds together, but not too predictably or cleanly.
Stone-in-the-Glen had been famous for its trees. Shade trees in parks, blossoming trees in the walkways. Fruit trees lining the neighborhood streets, with limbs that bent under the weight of an abundant harvest season.
The people in town watched in sorrow as tree after tree came down. And with the trees died the shade. The light in Stone-in-the-Glen became a constant searing whiteness and difficult to bear. People squinted to look at one another, their faces creased into permanently angry expressions.
Delineation of Setting
MAPMAKER: Sai’s world on An Luang is described vividly; and also the social constructs that are so important to her story (and Lian’s). Readers learn just enough about the wider world and its history, and it comes effortlessly through Sai’s narrative voice and the dialogue she relates..
In a place this serene, how could anyone believe we were going back to war? After two decades of fighting every neighbor in striking distance, the Kingdom of Mangkon was bigger and stronger than ever. We finally had peace. We had security. It meant I actually had a good job for once. (8)
OGRESS: Setting is the strongest part; displayed through vivid descriptions of the town then and now, the food the Ogress makes, the Orphan house, the Ogress’s home and of course the literal stone, or now pile of junk. You feel as if you are walking the drab town streets and tasting the delicious food.
The stone sat just off to the side of the center square. It was, and is, rough and asymmetrical and rather drab in color. It wasn’t a stone that announced itself, it just blended in. It didn’t seem at first glance to be that large a stone- perhaps the size of a comfortable chair but in truth it was much bigger than it seemed as much of the bulk extended deep under the earth and extended in many directions. How deep? How wide? Well no one could say.
Delineation of Characters
MAPMAKER: Sai is at the center: we root for her, but can see how her ambition and sense of resentment can lead her astray. Others are all more than they seem at first: Sai gradually sees some good in Grebe and Mud. We can see how appealing Rian appears, but her emergence as a villain is convincing.
[Sai realizes her father is a better person than she had realized]: “I was speechless. I felt like someone had taken a spoon and swirled it inside my brain, until everything I thought I knew was turned completely upside down”294
OGRESS: We are taken through a full character arc of EVERYONE: the ogress, the crows, the mayor, the orphans (individually and as a whole) the townspeople (individually and as a whole) and the matron and her husband. We see the anatomy of becoming a hero, how there is not just one hero and begin to understand how people can become “bad or good.”
“I would like nothing more than to tell you that every person—human, dragon, or any other kind of creature—is fundamentally good. But I can’t tell you that, because it is not in my nature to lie. Everyone starts fundamentally good, in my experience, and nearly everyone stays mostly good for the most part. But some . . . well. They choose to do bad things. No one knows why. And then a small number of those choose to stay bad. I wish it weren’t true. But it’s best you know.”
Appropriateness of Style
MAPMAKER: Sai narrates with a consistent “show don’t tell” approach. She doesn’t describe what her feelings are, but we learn what they are from her actions. Text is mostly dialogue and Sai’s current observations, providing a sense of immediacy that brings readers right into each scene.
[Sai, filled with resentment about class limitations]: “Good little Mangkon children were taught to say the royal motto whenever we walked through one of our city’s gates, as a reminder that we are the living links to our past. I stared up at the wooden dragon, my lips shut tight. And then I walked into the darkness, heading for home.
OGRESS: An unknown narrator is present throughout the novel who converses with the reader, asks questions and makes you think. The repetition of “Listen,” and the rhetorical questions are preachy, but it works for book’s purpose: to look differently at people and events and to work together as a whole.
We can choose to be filled with suspicions, or we can choose to accept grace, and then continue to extend kindness to others. Which do you choose?”
Presentation of Information Including Accuracy, Clarity, and Organization
MAPMAKER: Told from Sai’s point of view, in past tense but though she’s telling after the fact, she stays in the moment: no foreshadowing or analysis from her now-wiser self. She rarely judges her actions, like betraying Paiyoon or swallowing Rian’s lies, but lets the reader figure things out.
Sai faced with a choice about forging the Captain’s writing: “I stared down at Rian’s outstretched hand. A familiar bitterness had started to fill my mouth. It took me a moment to realize it was the same feeling I’d had that night in the Fens when Mud and Catfish had me to forge a letter for them.”246
OGRESS: Barnhill takes a lot of risks with this book: asking rhetorical questions, commanding the reader to “listen,” speaking from the perspectives of crows, a mysterious narrator and even a stone. These are all decisions that will appeal to the child audience who the Newbery award is for.
Caw, the crows said. People have said that this is a good town. And maybe it was once. And maybe there is still goodness somewhere. And loveliness somewhere. But there is an unkindness that grows every day. It spreads the way the blight spread through the trees. If a town can be so unkind as to throw rocks at crows, what else are they capable of?
Weaknesses of Opposing Book
EMILY ON MAPMAKER: Many aspects of the book and criteria were underdeveloped, especially the characters who were very one dimensional, leaving the reader with a lot of questions. The pacing was staggering and uneven with a very quick beginning and end while the middle dragged on.
STEVEN ON OGRESS: Overstated themes. Anthea’s “what is a neighbor? sign idea was ineffective. They still had to write yet another book to answer that question because the townspeople couldn’t think for themselves. It also spelled out the novel’s themes. The townspeople (and the readers) could have figured that out for themselves.
OGRESS: An excellent modern day fantasy that takes the typical tropes, spins them upside down and encourages young readers to think critically. OGRESS excels in all six of the Newbery criteria and children will resonate with this title.
MAPMAKER: A large-scale adventure set in a fully realized world, built around a compelling lead character who is flawed, but also admirable. Deeper themes of what it means to be a hero and the impact of colonialism emerge seamlessly as part of the story and character development.
Now readers it’s time for you to vote. Based on the above points you can vote for a winner in each category and an overall winner. You’re welcome to add your own opinions on each of the categories too! Please submit ballots in the comments.
Filed under: Book Discussion, Heavy Medal Mock
About Emily Mroczek-Bayci
Emily Mroczek (Bayci) is a freelance children’s librarian in the Chicago suburbs. She served on the 2019 Newbery committee. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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