Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien is one of the first chapter books I read aloud to our oldest child after we made it through the works of Roald Dahl. Once again, I chose a book to read him that seemed to be a childhood favorite among my friends, even though I’d never read it myself. I had liked the movie as a kid, so I was completely shocked to find the book is nothing like the movie. (You’d think I’d know better by now.) It’s been over two years since we read this together and it is still on both our lists of favorite books I’ve read aloud.
Mrs. Frisby is a quietly brave mother mouse facing two contradictory tasks: keep her son Timothy resting indoors until the summer while he heals from pneumonia and move her family out of the path of the incoming farmer’s plow. Determined to find a solution that solves both problems at once, Mrs. Frisby braves a visit to the wise owl (not an easy thing for a tasty mouse) and later the mysterious rats of NIMH. Throughout her adventures, she learns secrets of her husband’s past, the inside workings of the unsual rat colony, and that she is stronger and more resourceful than she thought.
The book opens with Mrs. Frisby taking pity on a crow wrapped up in string. She saves the crow from the farmer’s cat even though she is on an important errand (and vulnerable to attack) herself. Time and again throughout the story, she does the unthinkable to help someone else. I found myself admiring Mrs. Frisby’s generosity and pluck. My first grader was enthralled with the entire story and would groan in agony at the end of each chapter. This was the first book we’ve read where he experienced the thrill of a cliffhanger. (While I enjoyed the book immensely, I did not find it overly suspenseful, which made his reaction that much more hilarious.)
Three more words of encouragement if you’re debating whether or not to give Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH a go:
1. The book is so much better than the movie. In fact, we had to turn the movie off halfway through because we were both so angry at the blatant changes. Two years later and our son still brings up how terrible the movie was. (There is no magic in the book. The movie, meanwhile, is full of a sorcerer rat antagonist and a magic amulet. I like a good magical amulet, but this story did not need one to be exciting.)
2. Gretchen Rubin listed this as one of the first children’s books she’d recommend to adults interested in reading great children’s lit when she was on the What Should I Read Next? podcast this month.
3. Based on my searching for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Amazon thinks I might also be interested in The Phantom Tollbooth and The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, both of which are absolute favorites around here. (In fact, we just finished The Mixed-up Files this morning!) If that’s not a solid recommendation, I don’t know what is!
I would recommend this to: children ready for a longer chapter book, families looking for a crowd pleaser for multiple ages, and anyone who watched the movie at summer camp (like I did).