The Ogress and the Orphans

The Ogress and the Orphans
Kelly Barnhill
Piccadilly Press

Hugely moving and sublimely written with carefully considered pacing, this is a book for everyone at all times, but especially these troubled times through which we’re living.

It’s set in Stone-in-the-Glen, a once idyllic town that after a fire destroyed its library, has undergone many changes for the worse: the school also burned down, other fires led to the loss of the town’s trees. Rather than the close community it was, rumours spread easily as people are now focussed on their own problems, suspicious of one another and reluctant to do anything for the benefit of neighbours. There’s a flashy self-serving mayor who manipulates any attempts at discussion leaving those of his constituents who go to him for help unable to recall what their problems are.

In the town too is the Orphan House: home to a group of fifteen children cared for by a loving elderly Matron and her husband Myron. Now no longer supported by the townsfolk, they do their best to stretch their meagre resources. In the orphanage though is a wonderful resource of a different kind: a fantastic reading room.

Living on the town’s edge is an Ogress. She’s a gentle loving soul who delights in leaving vegetables and wonderful goodies made from the produce grown in her garden for the residents as they sleep. However being different, she’s become the townsfolk’s scapegoat, so when one of the orphans, Cass, decides to run away, the Ogress is held responsible for the girl’s disappearance. In fact it’s she who rescues Cass tending her and bringing her safely back to the orphanage, but her return is seen and misinterpreted by a man as confirmation of the wickedness of the Ogress.

When the grownups won’t listen to Cass and the other children, they must find another way to help their generous neighbour and repair their broken community. This means getting the townsfolk to ask key questions such as ‘What and who is my neighbour? Is that possible? Perhaps yes, with the help of some crows, the ogress, one or two empathetic townsfolk and a stone. Happily, in the end, it’s knowledge, story and books, community, kindness and sharing that wins out. So it is in Stone-in-the-Glen and so we hope, can it be again in our own fractured world.

It’s impossible in a short review to do full justice to this powerful story: the author leaves space for readers to form their own opinions on some of the book’s philosophical questions and I suspect we’ll all bring different things to this allegorical tale.

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