cover image The Ogress and the Orphans

The Ogress and the Orphans

Kelly Barnhill. Algonquin, $19.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-64375-074-3

Before fires claimed its spaces of books and learning, Stone-in-the-Glen was a “lovely town... famous for its trees,” its abundance, its close-knit community, and its ample library (where even the librarians’ “shushes were lovely”). Following the fires, however, searing light, damaging floods, and anger and rumor become commonplace, and the cued-white human residents retreat behind locked doors and fences, goaded on by a self-interested, isolationist mayor who sows a campaign of suspicion and fear. At the impoverished but love-filled Orphan House, 15 children reside alongside two elderly sweethearts and a fantastical reading room, doing their best to stretch their meager resources. When a “careful and considerate” ogress takes up residence at the town’s far edge, cultivating a garden and observing the town’s need, she begins delivering nourishing baked goods and boxes of vegetables to the residents overnight. Employing a benevolent, omniscient narrator (“Listen,” the voice urges) and a slowly unfurling, deliberately paced telling, Newbery Medalist Barnhill incorporates ancient stories, crow linguistics, and a history of dragonkind into an ambitious, fantastical sociopolitical allegory that asks keen questions about the nature of time, the import of community care, and what makes a neighbor. Ages 10–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Mar.)