The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

The Ogress and the Orphans Book Cover


Goodreads: The Ogress and the Orphans
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022


Stone-in-the-Glen was once a lovely town. Then the library burned down. Soon, the school and the park are destroyed, too. The mayor, alone, can help, he says. But the neighborliness of the town disappears, too. And the Mayor claims it is because an Ogress has moved in on the edge of town. Take back the town and make the city neighborly again, the Mayor cries! The orphans know the Ogress is not to blame. But how can they make the town lovely again when everyone seems determined to ignore facts?

Star Divider


Once again, I think Kelly Barnhill has done a wonderful job in writing a middle grade book that will largely appeal to adults. The Ogress and the Orphans is a fable-esque fantasy clearly responding to Trump-era politics. The message–stated out loud, repeatedly, in case readers do not have the brain capacity to figure it out themselves–is that fake news and emotions sometimes trump logic and lead to evil, but a little bit of neighborliness can save the world. The world is compelling and the characters sympathetic, if overly precocious, but while I can see this book as the type to win awards, I can’t think of any actual tweens who would pick this up.

One of Barnhill’s worst flaws as a storyteller is that her works are incredibly redundant. Characters have the same conversations over and over. And her narrators–in this case, an omniscient anonymous “someone” whose identity is easily discernible from the start–like to spell out the moral of the story. Again. And again. And again. The Ogress and the Orphans has, “Be good. Do good!” as its own little mantra, interspersed with the orphans philosophizing on the nature of goodness and on the definition of “neighbor.” “Look at how one person can do good and inspire others to do good!” is also a recurring sentiment. We get it. Barnhill wants us to reject Trump-era politics, embrace diversity and immigration, and be kind to others. But we probably didn’t need almost 400 pages for that message to come across.

If one can get past the redundancy and the didacticism, there is a charming story embedded in here. One with ogres and dragons and talking animals. At times, the book has an old-school feel, and even a hint of magic. I just wish that Barnhill’s editors would have slimmed down some of the moralizing to let the story shine. I feel certain younger readers would respond to the story. I am not sure they will appreciate the preaching.

Barnhill’s books get so much attention, I believe, because adults and especially teachers, librarians, and publishers respond to the messages they promote. The Ogress and the Orphans, for instance, simplifies things a bit for children, so the bare bones story line is that the town of Stone-in-the-Glen stopped being neighborly when a wicked politician burned down the library. Books have ideas! Books have information! Give someone the right book, and they will have the right ideas (which in this case means rejecting Trumpian politics, being kind to each other, and reopening the library and the school). That’s a feel-good message for the publishing industry and for anyone who promotes books and literacy. Add in a bit more “deep” messaging about one person being able to change the world and you have an award winner!

I am truly interested, however, in how actual children respond to this book. To me, it seems obviously aimed at an adult audience. The messaging is too direct, the plot too slow, and the whole book too redundant. Even the orphans, whose precociousness might seem charming to grown-ups, might seem unrealistic or vaguely sickening to children. There is a difference between children’s books for children and children’s books adults like, and this is decidedly the latter.

3 Stars

4 thoughts on “The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

  1. Eustacia | Eustea Reads says:

    That first line 😂 As an (alleged) adult who just read and enjoyed The Girl Who Drank The Moon, I suspect I’m in the target audience for this. But I feel that I would not be able to get over the moralising in the book!


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