Category: MG Classic Middle Grade Challenge

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

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
Goodreads
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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.

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.

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.

nimh

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!

Finally

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?

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What Katie Read

Farmer Boy: The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along (November)

Farmer Boy: The Midnight Garden Classic Middle Grade Read-along (November)Published by Harper & Row on 1933
Genres: Classic, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 373
Goodreads
five-stars

I LOVE the Little House books! I grew up with the yellow paperback boxed set, and it’s still one of my prized bookish possessions. I also watched the Little House on the Prairie television series with my family, so I had a hearty dose of Little House goodness throughout my childhood.

How excited I was to discover that the November book for The Midnight Garden’s Classic Middle Grade Readalong was Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder!

So here I am to share some thoughts about the story I haven’t read in years, before heading over to The Midnight Garden to join in on the discussion there. I hope you’ll stop by as well! (Next month the book is Little Women!!)

I still remember those gorgeous, thick descriptions of food in the Little House books. Menus, maple sugar making tips, pie and pancake eating—Farmer Boy especially is chock full of such wonderful things.

Here are a few examples:

“Big yellow cheeses were stacked there, and large brown cakes of maple sugar, and there were crusty loaves of fresh-baked bread, and four large cakes, and one whole shelf full of pies” (25). YUM!

Or how about this:

“Mother was frying pancakes and the big blue platter, keeping hot on the stove’s hearth, was full of plump brown sausage cakes in their brown grave…There was oatmeal with plenty of thick cream and maple sugar. There were fried potatoes, and the golden buckwheat cakes, as many as Almanzo wanted to eat, with sausages and gravy or with butter and maple syrup. There were preserves and jams and jellies and doughnuts. But best of all Almanzo like the spicy apple pie, with its thick, rich juice and its crumbly crust. He ate two big wedges of the pie” (38).

If I could get invited over for one of the meals from Farmer Boy, that would be a treat!

farmer boy meal uaAlmanzo’s story is a delight—this stand alone novel gives us more times with the boy who would become Laura’s husband—and what memorable times they are.

I had forgotten the perils of being a schoolteacher that are discussed in that first bit of the book, when Almanzo treks to school as a nine year old. That’s right—Almanzo’s school teacher actually faces the possibility of getting “thrashed” by the big boys at school who are disrespectful and just general HOOLIGANS!

Then the teacher breaks out a whip that Almanzo’s father supplied him with, and puts those boys in their place. This sounds a bit intense, doesn’t it? A teacher with a whip?? What’s going on with that?? I was shocked to read that the previous schoolteacher DIED after he was beat up by the bigger students. Did you know that school could be so dangerous back in rural New York state in the late 19th century? I hadn’t remembered any of this from my childhood reading, so it’s been fascinating revisiting FARMER BOY. This definitely also makes me want to do some research and find out more.

As I read, I actually used stickies to mark all the foodie passages. There’s a lot of apple pie being eaten, that’s for sure! And stacks of pancakes with maple syrup. Who wouldn’t want to visit Alamanzo’s house? Taking part in one of those meals would be fantastic.

Speaking of spirituality in children’s literature—I think there’s something to say about that here. To me, sharing a meal with people can be a spiritual activity. Not every meal, but there is something significant and intimate that can happen among family and friends when you eat together. The descriptive passages of the meals eaten in the Little House books highlights (at least to me) the importance that families in this culture placed on sharing a meal. After all, they had worked so hard to grow and prepare that food. I think there is a significant aspect of the book in those passages—there’s something to be said about how sharing and partaking of food encourages community. Go check out the descriptions of Almanzo eating at meal times and let me know what you think…

And–Almanzo and his siblings learn how to run the farm! I was amazed at the way Laura Ingalls Wilder describes so many of the activities a boy of Almanzo’s age living on a farm in the late 19th century would learn. Planting corn, keeping corn from freezing, protecting the potato crop, sheep shearing, getting ice for the ice house, breaking calves—the list goes on! All that hard work as a family would surely play a role in its strength—and I think this is apparent in the story.

Can you believe the way Eliza Jane saved Almanzo from getting whipped for ruining the wall in the parlor?

How about that exploding potato?

And the half dollar Almanzo’s father gives him after he asks for a nickel?

The story is filled with these episodes that paint a colorful picture of Almanzo Wilder’s life—the story delighted me as a young reader and it fascinates me today.

#3 in the Little House Series

Recommended for All!

What about you? Did you grow up with the Little House books? Did you read Farmer Boy as part of The Midnight Garden read-along??

Do you have a favorite foodie passage from the book?

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What Katie Read
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