Book Review: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
There are some children’s books that manage to be engaging, exciting, and also educational. “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” by Robert C. O’Brien is one of those books. The novel centers around Mrs. Frisby, a widowed field mouse whose home is about to be destroyed by the farmer’s plow. One of Mrs. Frisby’s sons has been ill all winter and she cannot move him to a different shelter, so she seeks out the help of former laboratory rats living underneath the farm to her save her home and family. The story then flashes back to tell of how the laboratory rats (held in the National Institute of Mental Health – NIMH) were transformed from normal rats into super intelligent, literate rats, and how they escaped the laboratory and created their own complex society underneath the farm.
One truly enjoyable aspect of this book is how all of the animals have unique but relatable personalities, and yet come together to help save Mrs. Frisby’s home. There is no questionable behavior here, however, there are scenes that might be scary for younger children.
The best part of this book is the non-judgmental way it examines animal rights. When the Rats of NIMH become aware that they are as intelligent as their captors, they begin to question why they must be put in cages. After their escape from the laboratory, the rats soon realize they will have to steal food to survive. However, some of the rats find this ethically unappealing – they do not want to live off of humans the way humans live off of animals. So they create a plan to set up a utopian farm of their own. When Mrs. Frisby approaches the rats for help they must decide whether or not to put aside their plans and risk detection from the farmer to help her family.
The book nicely illustrates the symbiotic relationship that humans have with animals and leaves it to the reader to decide what is fair and for whom. This non-judgmental approach is a great way to introduce children to animal rights; however, some of the topics and discussions might be a challenge for younger children. For 8-10 year olds this book would be best read aloud (this age group would enjoy the action and characters) and would probably need quite a bit of explanations for the larger themes. 11 – 12 year olds could read this on their own and engage in more discussions.
If you have an animal-loving young reader in your house, definitely give this book a try. You might be surprised at what they take away from it.