Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

I'm sorry to report that I accidentally chose a "four books in one" monster of a P.D. James novel to kick off the year, and it is taking me forever to finish it.  I didn't realize the heft of the book because I bought it on my Kindle, and I didn't pay attention to the number of pages.  I did, however, manage to read 1971 Newbery Medal Winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien to my kids last week.

The story is about a widowed mouse named Mrs. Frisby who must find a way to move her house (a cinder block) from one corner of the garden to a safer one. Her frail, thoughtful son, Timothy, has recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia and will not survive if he is exposed to the cold, early-summer nights.  She seeks help from a colony of elusive rats who harbor a secret that involves her late husband, Jonathon. She learns that the rats have undergone chemical experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, resulting in their being over a thousand times more intelligent than natural rats.  With the help of Nicodemus, the leader of the NIMH rat colony, she learns the truth about her husband's early life and uncovers a strange, cautionary tale about science and ethical limits.

The book was everything quality children's literature should be:  funny, interesting, cozy, nerve-wracking, and thought-provoking.  And all of this without being a thinly-veiled Disturbing-Story-For-Grown-Ups told in a Kindergarten-Teacher-Voice.  I hate those kind of books.

The book is 233 pages with the occasional pen-and-ink illustration.  The target age for the book was 8-12, but I read it to my 6, 7, and 9 year olds, and they were all rapt.  Oh--and if you've seen the movie, don't skip the book.  As usual, the book is densely packed with philosophical discussions and character development that the movie omits.  Also, the movie throws in a bunch of bite-your-knuckle plot twists that don't happen in the book. In the words of my nine-year-old, "How dare they change the plot?  After all Robert's hard work?"  (She and Robert are tight, it would appear).  The biggest offense in her mind?  That the movie changes Mrs. Frisby's name to Mrs. Brisby, and that Jenner is portrayed as a Stone-Cold-Killa, which he isn't in real life.  (Real Life=The Book.  But I don't have to tell you people that).

Q for you:  What other children's books-turned-movies have you read?  Tell me in the comment section, and if you've reviewed any children's books-turned-movies, Mr. Linky-it-up!

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