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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Odious Ogre, written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Scholastic, 2010. $21.95 ages 4 and up

"At least that's what everyone
thought, or supposed, or had
heard from someone else, or
read somewhere, or had it on
good authority from the
grocer's wife's nephew.
Nobody, however, could
claim to know anything about
him for sure."

When I read this book first I liked it. How can you's Norton Jester and Jules Feiffer?! Then, I read it again and today I read it once more prior, to telling you about it. I LOVE it! And I am quite sure that I will only love it more the more that I read it.

It's been 50 years since they collaborated on 'The Phantom Tollbooth'. Let's hope that they don't wait so long to do it again! With Juster's amazing ability with worplay and storytelling and Feiffer's energetic colorful artwork,  you have a treat in store. It's size suggests the immensity of the ogre and his far-reaching reputation; and we quickly learn how people feel about him.

They are terrified, and helpless, and hopeless in his wake; and he loves the power he holds over them. 'No ogre ever had it so good.' He wanders through the countryside, stopping often to satisfy his hunger and slake his thirst. While his victims live in fear, he moves from place to place lazily accepting the direction of his days and feeling quite superior:

"No one can resist me," he had to admit. "I am invulnerable, impregnable, insuperable, indefatigable, insurmountable." He let each satisfying word roll smoothly off his tongue. The Ogre did have quite an impressive vocabulary, due mainly to having inadvertently swallowed a dictionary while consuming the head librarian in one of the nearby towns."

Norton Juster knows his audience is children and he trusts them to 'get' his tale about the powerful and the powerless, the greedy and the kind, the entitled and the unaware. He hasn't created a book to improve a child's vocabulary through study and testing. He has written a most engaging story of a pompous and grandiose man who meets his match one sunny day on a walk through the woods.

The ogre notices the small cottage as he travels toward his next day's meal in the nearest village, and it becomes a beacon for him. Once there, he is flabbergasted by the young woman he finds. She virtually ignores him, has no knowledge of the chaos that precedes and follows each of his visits and treats him with the kindness and generosity that she shows everyone she meets. She does have an opinion:

""Oh, you're not so terrible, " the girl insisted, with a lovely, musical laugh. "Overbearing perhaps, arrogant for sure, somewhat self-important, a little too mean and violent, I'm afraid, and a bit messy. Your shoes could certainly use a polishing, but I'll bet if you brushed your teeth, combed your hair, found some new clothes, and totally changed your attitude you'd be quite nice."

When he cannot come to grips with what is happening...he throws a tantrum! Kids and parents will totally relate. The young woman even loves that display of emotion. The ogre is confounded by her reaction; so much so that he perishes.

 The young woman learns something that she will carry with her through the coming days:

"She also understood that the terrible things that can happen when you come face-to-face with an Ogre can sometimes happen to the Ogre and not to you."

It seems we can all take a lesson from Mr. Juster's+ wise words.

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