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A National Book Award finalist and instant fantasy classic about the power of community, generosity, books, and baked goods, from the author of the beloved Newbery Medal winner The Girl Who Drank the Moon.Stone-in-the-Glen, once a lovely town, has fallen on hard times. Fires, floods, and other calamities have caused the people to lose their library, their school, their park, and even their neighborliness. The people put their faith in the Mayor, a dazzling fellow who promises he alone can help. After all, he is a famous dragon slayer. (At least, no one has seen a dragon in his presence.) Only the clever children of the Orphan House and the kindly Ogress at the edge of town can see how dire the town’s problems are.
Then one day a child goes missing from the Orphan House. At the Mayor’s suggestion, all eyes turn to the Ogress. The Orphans know this can’t be: the Ogress, along with a flock of excellent crows, secretly delivers gifts to the people of Stone-in-the-Glen.
But how can the Orphans tell the story of the Ogress’s goodness to people who refuse to listen? And how can they make their deluded neighbors see the real villain in their midst?
This is a story about an ogress.
She is not who you might think she is.
(But really, is anyone?)
The Ogress lived in a crooked house at the far edge of town. She enjoyed baking and gardening and counting the stars. Like all ogres, the Ogress was quite tall—even sizable adults would have to crane their necks and squint a bit to say hello. She had feet the size of tortoises, hands the size of heron's wings, and a broad, broad brow that cracked and creased when she concentrated. Her skin was like granite, and her eyes looked like brand-new pennies. Her hair sprouted and waved from her head like prairie grass—stiff and yellow and green, sometimes spangled with daisies or dandelions or creeping ivy. Like all ogres, she spoke little and thought much. She was careful and considerate. Her heavy feet trod lightly on the ground.
This is also a story about a family of orphans. There were fifteen orphans living in the Orphan House at the time our story begins, several years after the Ogress first arrived in town. There were too many children for one house, but they made do. Their names were Anthea, Bartleby, Cassandra (who preferred Cass), Dierdre, Elijah, Fortunate, Gratitude, Hiram, Iggy, Justina, Kye, Lily, Maude, and the babies, Nanette and Orpheus. They were good children, these orphans: studious and hardworking and kind. And they loved one another dearly, ever so much more than they loved themselves.
The Ogress, too, was hardworking and kind and generous. She also loved others more than she loved herself.
This can be a problem, of course. Sometimes.
But it can also be a solution. Let me show you how.
This is also a story about a dragon. I do not like to talk about him much. I don't even like to think about him.
I should clarify: It is not my intention to speak ill of dragons generally. It is a terrible practice to prejudge anyone, be they ogres or orphans or dragons or nosy neighbors or assistant principals or people with unusual manners. It is important, always, to treat everyone with compassion and respect. This is well known.
As for dragons in particular, they are as diverse in their dispositions as any other creature. I, myself, have encountered dragons of every personality type—shy, gregarious, lazy, fastidious, self-centered, bighearted, enthusiastic, and brave.
But this dragon, I'm sorry to say, was none of those things. This dragon was greedy, perfidious, and indifferent. He felt no remorse, and he had not been redeemed. He delighted in discord and sowed acrimony wherever he went. These are all large words, and I apologize for them. But my feelings about this dragon are large.
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 this now, at the beginning of this book. Every story has a villain, after all. And every villain has a story.
This is also a story about a place, called Stone-in-the-Glen, which used to be a lovely town.
Everyone said so.
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 each season. Anyone—any neighbor or friend or visitor from far, far away—could reach up when the time was right and simply help themselves. People filled their baskets with apricots and persimmons, cherries and plums, apples and pears, depending on the time of year. They perfected recipes for tarts and pies and jams. They cooked fruit into candies, which they kept next to their front doors to give out to neighborhood children as they passed by.
The streets in Stone-in-the-Glen were a thing to behold in those days. People walked slowly under blossoming, or green, or fruiting boughs, taking their time as they enjoyed the dappled shade. Each night, street sweepers and scrubbers washed the cobblestones clean. The lamps, made from blown glass and polished lovingly by hand, glittered at night, like stars. The street signs hadn't yet gone missing, nor had the public art, back when it was a lovely town.
In those days, townspeople lounged in the promenades and the public square, discussing literature or politics or philosophy or art. All roads in town then led to the Library, which had wide windows, tall shelves, and deep cushions on the sofas, and which welcomed everyone. There were hand-bound books and modern books and ancient scrolls, and even texts carved into stones. The librarians bustled this way and that, sorting, preserving, shelving, and shushing. Even their shushes were lovely.
Neighbors worked together to make soup for the sick and cookies for classrooms. They swarmed like worker bees when a tree fell on a fence or when a roof needed mending or when somebody's mother had broken a leg. Neighbors cared for one another once upon a time. Back when it was a lovely town.
But then, one terrible night, the Library burned.
Different people remember terrible events differently. There were many stories explaining what happened that night in Stone-in-the-Glen, and nearly all of them disagreed. Some insisted that it was a miscreant who set the fire, claiming that they had heard footsteps echoing with sinister purpose, moving toward the venerable building and then scampering away once the flames erupted. Others swore they had heard the wings of a dragon flying overhead. Dragons were more common in those days than they are now, after all. And who loves fire more than a dragon? Others shook their heads and said that the fire had been inevitable—the place was a tinderbox. Old wood and old paper and the occasional candle that someone left unattended. A disaster waiting to happen, they said gravely.
(If anyone had asked me—and no one did—I could have told them that they were all correct. There was indeed a candle left burning. And then, I heard the malevolent footsteps, approaching in the dark. Within moments, a dragon unfurled itself into the fullness of its size and power at the back of the Library, the bright gleam of its scales shattering the night. I watched as it slithered up the side and coiled its long neck around the western turret. It grinned as it unhooked its jaws. I would have told anyone if they had asked me. But no one asked.)
While there was little consensus among the townsfolk about the fire's cause, everyone was in perfect agreement regarding what happened next—how the bells rang in the middle of the night and everyone, from the oldest to the youngest, raced from their beds, pulling coats over their nightclothes and sliding bare feet into galoshes. They ran through the darkened streets, carrying buckets, following the billowing smoke and that awful firelight. The fire, they say, rose in great towers over the Library, so bright it hurt their eyes just to look at it.
Heat poured from the building in great waves, crackling people's eyelashes and shriveling the leaves in nearby trees. 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.
The people of Stone-in-the-Glen arranged themselves into a line, desperately passing buckets, throwing water onto the flames. It was a useless exercise. The fire was too big. The wood beams were too dry. And paper has no choice but to burn.
For years after, the burned library remained in place, a tangle of ash and old metal and fallen, charred stone, situated between the Orphan House and the Center Square. No one had the heart to clear the debris away. No one could bear to touch a single stone. When people walked by, they held their breath.
The children in the Orphan House grew up next door to the remains of the Library. They could smell the smoke and ash. At night, the ghosts of old books haunted their dreams.
After the Library burned, the town's school, too, burned down. A tragic coincidence, everyone agreed. They held on to one another and grieved. Soon after, several other buildings burned as well—homes, shops, beloved spaces—in a rash of fires that spanned a little more than a year. After the fires, the fruit trees, and then the blossoming trees, and then the shade trees began to die off. A blight, people said. Perhaps caused by the smoke. Or that terrible heat. Or terrible luck. 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.
Without the trees, there was no root system to soak up the water when it rained, and Stone-in-the-Glen began to experience damaging floods, one after another, which finally caused an enormous sinkhole to open up right next to the beautiful park where the children in town used to play, nearly swallowing it whole. It was too dangerous to play there anymore.
Indeed, it began to feel too dangerous to play anywhere in Stone-in-the-Glen. There was no shade. There were no trees to climb. The whole town seemed to scowl. Neighbors glared at one another with creased brows and narrowed eyes.
People retreated into their homes. They stopped letting their children wander freely. They locked their doors and latched their shutters. Shut away and apart, they stopped thinking about their neighbors and stopped helping their neighbors. There was no more soup for the sick, no more sweets for children, no more cookies for classrooms (well, that goes without saying, as there were no more classrooms). Best, people thought, that we keep to ourselves.
And so they did. They peeked through their shutters at the empty streets, with a sadness in their hearts.
It used to be such a lovely town, people said.
But it isn't anymore.
The town of Stone-in-the-Glen had a mayor, and everyone loved him very much. How could they not? He cut a fine figure and had a blinding shock of blond hair and a smile so bright they had to shade their eyes. He glittered when he spoke. He was well mannered and seemed so sensible. When people went to him with their problems, well, they came away feeling so fine that they completely forgot what had vexed them in the first place. And isn't that, really, what a mayor is for?
People recalled the arrival of the Mayor, back when Stone-in-the-Glen was still a lovely town, like it was something out of a storybook. They remembered the click of his fine boots as he sauntered across the cobblestones, and the sweep of his great coat, and audacious twinkling of his eyes. Each time he spoke, he thrilled them to their bones. He set up a booth during Market Day with a sign that said WORLD-FAMOUS DRAGON HUNTER: INQUIRIES AND ADULATION ACCEPTED.
"Well," remarked the butcher (and the blacksmith and the tailor). "World-famous, you say? I am certainly convinced!"
"What a lucky town," exclaimed the cobbler (and the apothecary and the constable), "to host so noble a guest! What a lucky town indeed!"
They couldn't wrest their gaze from the world-famous dragon hunter. He dazzled their eyes. They shivered each time he spoke.
By sheer serendipity, several dragon sightings were reported in the weeks just following his arrival. And then they continued, month after month. What a lucky coincidence to have a world-famous dragon hunter in their very midst at the exact same time when an unknown number of dragons began lurking in the woods nearby! Each time they saw the dragon hunter emerge victorious from the woods, the dragon once again driven away and nowhere to be seen, the townspeople erupted in cheers. They elected him mayor. They reelected him year after year. A landslide, every time.
After a while, the dragon sightings dwindled, and then became haphazard, and eventually mostly ceased. No doubt the dragon hunter's reputation had frightened them off. And while the townspeople prided themselves on their mayor's beauty and charisma and bravery—and while they still loved to say to the town's visitors, "He defeated a dragon, you know; he defeated so many dragons!"—over time, his shine had begun to dull, just a bit. And perhaps that un-shining would have continued.
But then the Library burned.
And then the school.
And the other buildings.
But then the trees died, and the shade vanished, and the sinkhole took the park.
How they looked to their mayor then. How they needed him. The Mayor, they knew in their bones, would solve their problems. Their world had become, quite quickly, chaotic and dangerous and mean. Their mayor seemed to have all the answers. "I can fix it," he promised. "I, alone, can fix it." They pressed their hands to their hearts when they heard him speak, emotion swelling in their chests. Their eyes became wide, and their smiles became stiff, and their faces turned to their mayor in a state of adulation and static joy.
Indeed, one could say that the fire in the Library was the best thing—the very best thing—that had ever happened to the Mayor.
A lucky coincidence, even.
The Crooked House
Not long after the burning of the Library, the Ogress arrived in Stone-in-the-Glen. She found an abandoned farm at the far edge of town, and she decided to stay for a while. It was an out-of-the-way sort of place, but that suited her fine. It was several years after her arrival before anyone in town even noticed her living there. Ogres are reticent creatures, you see. And shy. They don't announce themselves.
On the evening she arrived, the Ogress dug a burrow in the ground, barely big enough to fit the whole of her in while the sun was out. She came out each night, with only the creek and the grass and the sky for company. She needed very little: some protection from the sun during the day and a comfortable place on the ground to lie back and watch the stars.
It took some time before she felt at home enough to want to stay for good. And it took a bit more time before she got it in her head to start building a house.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Ogress had lived in many other places before coming to Stone-in-the-Glen. Ogres live so very long, after all. If an ogre passes away before hitting the age of one thousand, other ogres come to the funeral and say, "So young! So tragic! Struck down in the brightness of youth!"
She lived with her ogre parents when she was small—no bigger than a boulder! as the ogres like to say—until it was time for her to grow up and seek her fortune. The Ogress loved her parents and would have preferred to stay in her family home forever, but they explained that this was the way of things for ogrekind, and that it was time to get on with the business of growing up. And so the Ogress kissed her parents and held them tight and wept bitterly as she went into the world.
For a while, a cave made a nice home—but it was damp, and rather lonely, and she was curious about the wider world. And so she moved on. Later, she lived on a rocky crag in the middle of the ocean, where sometimes she swam with the whales. But it, too, was lonely. The ocean is wild and fierce and full of storms, and whales never stay in one place for long. It wasn't much fun always being the one to wave goodbye.
She tried her hand at being a swamp ogre for a little less than a century, but she didn't much like how it smelled. So she moved on again.
She lived for quite some time with two trolls and a ghost in an abandoned castle. It wasn't a particularly happy place, trolls being trolls. She would have left right away were it not for the castle's laboratory, which took up the entire eastern wing of the building, and which was a marvel of moving parts—intricate gears and numerous clocks, and racks of glass bottles with substances inside that changed colors depending on the time of day or the weather or the particular quality of the wind. There were shelves and shelves of books that she could not read (ogres, as a general rule, never learn how to read), but many had maps and pictures and diagrams and detailed plans that she could largely figure out.
It was in this laboratory that the Ogress learned how to draw, and build, and invent. It was here that she learned how to mix pigments and stretch a canvas and paint the world as she saw it. It was here that she learned to experiment with the fruits and nuts from the orchards outside and the honey from the hives in the hollows, and to bake marvelous confections. And it was here that she learned how to use a telescope, and follow a star map, and track a trajectory, and behold the wonders of the night sky.
While she liked the castle well enough, and loved the laboratory, the trolls were mean, and the ghost was a terrible conversationalist. Eventually, the Ogress grew lonely. On the day she left, the ghost tilted her head sadly but the two trolls merely belched and farted in her direction before walking away, scratching their bums as they did so. The Ogress shouldered her bag. "I'm just trying to find a place where I can truly belong," she said, more to herself than to anyone else. And with that, she took her leave, bringing a few items from the laboratory with her—a telescope, some books, and several sets of plans for different machines that she thought she might want to build some day. No one waved goodbye, and the Ogress knew she was making the right choice.
She lived for a few pleasant centuries in an ogre village, deep in the mountains. Such villages were a rarity in those days, as they often found themselves targeted by small-minded people with backward views about ogres. This one was far enough off the common routes and remote enough that it avoided such unpleasantness. It was a happy place, that village, both warm and welcoming, and there she made her living growing vegetables for the market and drawing pictures for the ogre children and teaching the other ogres about the mysteries of the stars. And there she might have remained but for a sad turn of events. One day, after the Ogress had been away on a long journey (ogres get restless, you see, and find the need to take a turn about the world every now and again), she returned to discover that in her absence the entire village had been burned to the ground and abandoned. Everything—everything—was gone.
The Ogress, after the shock of the destruction had finally worn off, knew that she had no easy way of discovering where her neighbors had gone. Since ogres don't learn to read and write, sending letters was never exactly an option. Ogres simply assume that they will see one another again eventually. Life is long, after all. And over time, the paths we take tend to intertwine and overlap.
She traveled extensively and tried to make herself useful as a laborer, or a builder, or a maker of ingenious contraptions. She found unused animal dens to sleep in during the day and did her best work by moonlight. Sometimes, she had to beg for her supper. Sometimes, she begged and then gave her supper to someone else. It felt good to be able to share and help others. It was its own sort of belonging. She discovered that she didn't need much, and she didn't want much, either—just a bit of shelter, and perhaps a hearth for baking and a pot for soup. Something for herself. Something to share. A way to belong. She learned to trade in kindness and discovered the tremendous value in small mercies and selfless giving. The more she gave, the more she seemed to have. It was the best sort of magic.
During her travels, the Ogress heard the stories of the terrible fire in Stone-in-the-Glen. She heard how the trees there were dying. She listened as people told tales of the town's sorrow and growing poverty. The Ogress held these stories deep in her heart. She knew about loss. And sorrow. She thought that she might have a bit in common with the people of Stone-in-the-Glen. Maybe, she thought, this was a place where she could belong. So she set out to find it.
When she arrived in the middle of the night, the town, over a year after the fires, still smelled of smoke and ash. And sorrow, too. No one was about, of course. People hunkered in their houses behind latched shutters and locked doors. No one saw her make her way through the sad streets. No one heard the quiet footsteps of her large, soft shoes.
(Well, I did, of course. But no one asked me.)
She walked until she came to the far end of town, where the roads began to twist and the thickets grew tangled. Where the heavy limbs of the sycamores creaked in the breeze. There she found a farm, fallow and abandoned, the remnants of the old house and barn heaped in a hollow. But the soil was good. And the grass was soft. She could stay a season or two, plant a garden, perhaps. Live off the land until it was time to move on. She lay back on the ground and watched the stars, and dug her burrow just before the sun came up.
After a week or two, she had sprouting plants and had found a clutch of tubers, which made a tasty snack when they were roasted. She found glass in the ruins and started polishing the pieces into lenses so she could build a new telescope. She didn't know how long she would stay. But the farm felt comfortable. And there was something about this town. It needed her. She could feel it. Perhaps, she thought, once she was able to overcome her shyness, she might introduce herself to the townspeople nearby. Her neighbors. What a beautiful word that was: neighbors. It thrilled her to her core.
The first friends she made were not townspeople. A massive flock of crows arrived one sunset to the winding road at the far end of town, because they had heard that an ogre—an actual ogre—had come to the area and seemed intent on staying. Crows, like the orphans, are curious creatures. The birds settled on the sycamore branches to see for themselves.
The Ogress stopped her work. She looked up at the crows.
The crows curled their talons into the wood, prepared to hold their ground. "Caw," the crows said, which in their language meant "You are a stranger. And we would like to know your business."
"Caw," they added. "We have never met an ogre before, but we have heard the stories and have learned that your kind are prone to wickedness. Have you heard of the undeniable power of crows? Have you heard about our rapacious talons and our razor-sharp beaks? Have you heard that we hold grudges and remember our enemies and sometimes use weaponry to defeat those who wrong us?"
The Ogress did not speak Crow. Instead, she smiled at the crows, and she bowed low. So low that the top of her head nearly touched the ground. The crows were impressed with her excellent manners. "Hello, my friends," the Ogress said. "And welcome. I don't have much to offer guests, I'm afraid, but I do have a bit of hardtack in my bags. And some dried corn. If I crumble them together, they will make a fine meal. There is no use in keeping it to myself. Everything tastes better when you share it."
The crows were deeply moved. In town, no one greeted them at all. In town, no one offered them a meal or referred to them as guests. In town, they were only called pests. Or varmints. The people in town had become grumpier than usual since the Library burned down. Even earlier, some of the older crows insisted—ever since that blasted shiny mayor showed up. Some people were so grumpy that they even threw rocks at the crows from time to time. Rocks! The very idea!
The Ogress crumbled the tack into the corn and scattered it on the ground. As the crows ate, she told them something about her life. She left quite a bit out. Her life was very long, after all.
The crows listened carefully as she spoke. They hopped from branch to branch. They hovered in great dark clouds overhead. They conferred to one another in murmurs.
They liked the Ogress very much. But they were worried about her, too.
"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 might they be capable of?
"Caw," they added. "We like you fine, but you might want to consider a different place to live."
Of course the Ogress couldn't understand a word of any of this. Instead, she smiled, her heart full and her spirit light. "What wonderful neighbors you are! What delightful friends! What a lucky ogre am I! Please, come any old day you like. I will share whatever I can. After all, the more you give, the more you have. It is the only true thing I know."
The crows stayed with her as the night grew darker, and gathered close as she lay back on the tall grass.
They all looked up to count the stars.
Shortlisted for the National Book Award in Young People's Literature
An Amazon Best of the Year honoree
“An exquisite fantasy tale … Whether you’ve been counting the months, weeks and days or are brand-new to Barnhill’s sharp, word-perfect prose and classical yet fresh storytelling, you’re going to love this standalone fantasy.
—BookPage, “2022 Preview: Most Anticipated Children’s Books”
“As exquisite as it is moving.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The reader is immediately tossed into this fantasy … The Mayor is a fantastic (though loathsome) villain, oozing charisma and evil in equal measures … . It is fortunate that her tinkering with fairy tales and fables helped open a path to this novel that champions kindness in a very dark world.”
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)
“Barnhill’s gift for storytelling immediately draws readers into this character-driven tale where dragons lurk, crows prove great friends, and an unusual narrator relays events with a unique perspective. These fairy-tale trappings cloak modern lessons and timeless ideals that readers will do well to take to heart, no matter their age.”
—Booklist (starred review)
Barnhill delivers a plea for empathy with deft charm...Deeply moving and often hilarious, The Ogress and the Orphans will encourage readers to live by the Ogress's adage: "The more you give, the more you have." —Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“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.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A delightful tale with dragons, ogres, and orphans that is sure to have readers turning pages to see what happens next. … Characters from the town of Stone in the Glen are well developed and engaging. … Well written and engaging, this title is sure to please readers of all ages as it teaches valuable lessons on acceptance.”
—Youth Services Book Review
“Readers of all ages will love it. 5/5 stars.”
—YA Books Central
Praise for The Girl Who Drank the Moon:
2017 Newbery Medal Winner
A New York Times Bestseller
A New York Public Library Best Book of 2016
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2016
“Impossible to put down . . . The Girl Who Drank the Moon is as exciting and layered as classics like Peter Pan or TheWizard of Oz.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A gorgeously written fantasy about a girl who becomes “enmagicked” after the witch who saves her from death feeds her moonlight.”
“With compelling, beautiful prose, Kelly Barnhill spins the enchanting tale of a kindly witch who accidentally gives a normal baby magic powers, then decides to raise her as her own.”
—EW.com, The Best Middle-Grade Books of 2016
“Guaranteed to enchant, enthrall, and enmagick . . . Replete with traditional motifs, this nontraditional fairy tale boasts sinister and endearing characters, magical elements, strong storytelling, and unleashed forces.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Rich with multiple plotlines that culminate in a suspenseful climax, characters of inspiring integrity, a world with elements of both whimsy and treachery, and prose that melds into poetry. A sure bet for anyone who enjoys a truly fantastic story.”
—Booklist, starred review
“An expertly woven and enchanting offering.”
—School Library Journal, starred review
“Barnhill crafts another captivating fantasy, this time in the vein of Into the Woods . . . Barnhill delivers an escalating plot filled with foreshadowing, well-developed characters, and a fully realized setting, all highlighting her lyrical storytelling.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
- On Sale
- Mar 8, 2022
- Page Count
- 400 pages
- Algonquin Young Readers