Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS by Kelly Barnhill
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee Member Kerrie Lattari
THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS by Kelly Barnhill is the story of Stone-in-the-Glen, a once-thriving town that has essentially been burned to ashes, and its citizens, who are full of distrust and animosity for one another. We encounter a dazzling and deceitful Mayor who insists he is the only one who can fix their problems, a house of curious orphans who make the best of hard times, and a kind, lonely Ogress who just wants a place to belong. When an orphan goes missing, the blame is placed on the Ogress and the whole town rallies against her. The children work together to set things right and try to bring Stone-in-the-Glen back to its former glory.
Theme is a major player in THE OGRESS AND THE ORPHANS. Frequently throughout the story, readers are presented with variations on the importance of civic responsibility and the value in doing good for others. One quote in particular stood out to me, though there were many to choose from:
One good person can inspire other people to do good things. Good is not a number. Good is more than that. With good, the more you give, the more you have. It is the best sort of magic. (page 314).
The significance of stories in creating community is also a prevalent theme. The emphasis on the town’s library, the magic of the Reading Room in the Orphan House, Elijah’s incessant storytelling, and the way the town comes together once they begin sharing books again illustrates the necessity of sharing ideas in order to open minds:
They remembered that a story, in the mind of the reader, is like music. And discussing stories among other minds and other hearts feels like a symphony. They remembered how ideas make their own light, and how words have their own mass and weight and being.
We also get a richly detailed sense of place in this book. The descriptions of Stone-in-the-Glen allow us to clearly see the stark contrast between the lush trees, vibrant library, and bustling streets of the past and the ashy desolation left in its place. Not only is an entire chapter dedicated to describing the town, but we are treated to additional information through the memories and the goings-on of the characters. The focus on setting is crucial to the development of the plot.
I could say so much more about this delightful and thought-provoking read, including the clever use of the Stone as the narrator, but I will leave it to the comments to continue the conversation!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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