Classic Middle Grade Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (1971) by Robert C. O’BrienMrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade
Pages: 233

There's something very strange about the rats living under the rosebush at the Fitzgibbon farm. But Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with a sick child, is in dire straits and must turn to these exceptional creatures for assistance. Soon she finds herself flying on the back of a crow, slipping sleeping powder into a ferocious cat's dinner dish, and helping 108 brilliant, laboratory-enhanced rats escape to a utopian civilization of their own design, no longer to live "on the edge of somebody else's, like fleas on a dog's back."

This unusual novel, winner of the Newbery Medal (among a host of other accolades) snags the reader on page one and reels in steadily all the way through to the exhilarating conclusion. Robert O'Brien has created a small but complete world in which a mother's concern for her son overpowers her fear of all her natural enemies and allows her to make some extraordinary discoveries along the way. O'Brien's incredible tale, along with Zena Bernstein's appealing ink drawings, ensures that readers will never again look at alley rats and field mice in the same way.

On Friday, April 3rd, The Midnight Garden is holding their monthly classic Middle Grade Discussion, so today and later this week I’m bringing you my thoughts on both last month’s classic—Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (1971) and this month’s selection—The Secret Garden (1911). Both are books I loved as a child and that I still love as an adult, so I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts.


This is both a childhood favorite and an adult favorite. How splendid that this was the February book for The Midnight Garden Read-along! It was fabulous to discuss it with the group, and that discussion reminded me of how much I appreciate chatting about children’s classics. Not everyone finds classic children’s literature important, and that’s one reason why it’s so wonderful when I find other bloggers that do.

It was during my degree in Children’s Literature in England that I returned to Nimh, and remembered how fascinating this book has always been to me.

Lab rats that turn the tables and become super-intelligent, a mouse willing to brave danger for her family, and animals ready to band together against….THE CAT! All these elements make for an absorbing and rich animal fantasy.

Of course, I remember the animated film from my childhood, which actually is a bit different than the book in some ways. The movie takes a different name: The Secret of Nimh.


My brother and I recently watched this one and we were reminded at what parts we had been slightly traumatized as children! Parts of the film still seem pretty intense.

Who Should Read This Book:

If you like classic children’s literature and a good animal fantasy with rich dimensions and memorable characters, look no further than Nimh. Trust me, O’Brien has a fabulous plot with this one, and you may have grown up watching the animated film (or not) and you may have read this one when you were younger (or not), but you really should treat yourself and re-read it as an older reader.


Thoughts from the Rabbit Hole of Grad School:

I’ve got a confession to make—I wrote one of my essays in graduate school on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh and another toy fantasy, The Mouse and His Child.

I won’t include the entire essay here for you to read, but I do want to pull out some thoughts I had about Nimh from that essay I wrote over ten years ago! I do have to say, it was loads of fun to write about this classic children’s book.

One thing I was really interested in when I wrote the paper and that I’m still interested in is the idea of “Journey” in the book. Whether it’s the rats of nimh or Mrs. Frisby and her family, these characters are dealing with the challenges of homelessness and displacement and they journey to find a home and safety. In a way, a lot of us can relate to that—we may have a physical home, but we’re on a journey of sorts to find safety in authentic community (of friends or family) and a place of belonging. In that other book I mentioned, The Mouse and His Child, the discovery of identity and belonging is a strong thread throughout the story.

There’s actually THREE types of journeys that Mrs. Frisby herself takes in the book:

  1. Frisbys’ journey to finding a safer habitation.

  2. Frisby’s journey to the Rats of Nimh, seeking help.

  3. Frisby’s journey to discover more about who her late husband really was and his connection with the Rats of Nimh.

Isn’t that interesting? All of these journeys are connected to one another—each affects the other. Take out any one of these journeys, and Mrs. Frisby’s goal of finding a safe place for her family might not work out.

There are more aspects of Nimh to explore, but that gives us quite enough for now. You might be saying, Katie, why are you going all academic on us by bringing up your paper from graduate school?

Well, readers, I can’t help but get excited about that paper after re-reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and in a way, I almost want to write another paper! In fact, many of you may now want to go and enroll in a Master’s program in Children’s Literature yourselves. If you need a list of possible programs, I can certainly provide advice!


Let’s just say that I’ll probably be visiting the fantasy classic middle grade world of Nimh again next year, and who knows what new insight I’ll gain? That’s something I love about reading Classic Middle Grade books—there’s always something more you gain after each reading.

And that is worthy of discussion.

Did you read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh as a young reader? How about when you were older? What did you think? Did you see the film?

What Katie Read

7 Comments on Classic Middle Grade Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (1971) by Robert C. O’Brien

  1. I’ve never read this one, Katie, and I just realized that it’s due to The Midnight Garden that I’m seeing this book all over the place lately! It must be wonderful 🙂

  2. Okay, as many times as my kids watched this movie-and that was a lot-I have to confess that I never even thought of the book. May have to check this out. Thanks for sharing on the Kid Lit Blog Hop.

  3. Oh Katie – Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was one of my favorite books growing up. I’ve read countless times. There’s just something magical about it. Thanks for sharing your post in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. This one is bringing back so many fond memories! 🙂

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