Miscellaneous Articles

By Various

The following items I have no date for and stray from the general theme of this section by branching off into some articles which are neither reviews nor are included in their entirety. All deal with Mrs. Frisby however, and I hope are of interest to someone.

Source: A Reference Guide to Modern Fantasy for Children, p. 405-406

...In Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, O'Brien presents the reader with animals who have their own society but are still animals; though they are of a species man has been taught to hate, they become heroic as they fight not only to survive but to survive with dignity.

The idea of an organized society of creatures is as new to the animals as it is to the reader. For Mrs. Frisby and the others, life means getting by and making do as best one can by oneself. The creatures of the fields and forest do not help one another except sometimes, against Dragon, the cat. When Mrs. Frisby helps untangle Jeremy, it is as much a surprise to them both as when the owl agrees to help Mrs. Frisby. Neighborliness the creatures do have--one can always count on Mr. Ages to solve medical problems, and the lady shrew gets very agitated when she thinks the rats are destroying Mrs. Frisby's house; but a sense of purpose and cooperation is lacking--that and the urge to change the environment for the better, which seem to be important to O'Brien's definition of society.

For purpose, cooperation, and a desire to change their environment to suit their needs are exactly what the rats themselves have. They manipulate their environment by tapping into Mr. Fitzgibbon's power line to work motors and provide light for their tunnels. They plan to plant and harvest their own crops to provide food for themselves. The rats make and execute plans to benefit themselves later on, and they write and read.

Though experimentation by humans is responsible for the high intelligence of the rats, they feel that they must get as far away from human civilization as possible to form their own society- less creatures--Mrs. Frisby, the shrew, Jeremy, the owl--use, yet do not depend on, humans; but the social rats do, taking no food but electrical power. While they stay near humans, they are not only in danger of being discovered and destroyed but are forced to depend on humans as their new society stagnates. Only by getting away from people can they build a true society build to their own proportions and reflecting their own values and ideals. Away from the shadow of man, the creatures can find their true potential.

This is true, however, only of those creatures who have been radically altered by the experiments, or of their descendants. Though Mrs. Frisby tries, she cannot learn to read well, but her children, who inherit their father's traits, can and do. The rats, whose lifespans as well as intelligence have been made greater, have the time needed to develop their society. The creatures of the wood have neither.

Though O'Brien presents creatures who talk to one another and are forming their own society, they are not anthropomorphized; they are still animals. O'Brien's style is descriptive. Characterization is almost nonexistent, though Mrs. Frisby's anxiety comes through very well. Suspense is skillfully handled, especially the touch of doubt at the end of the book.

Source: School Library Review, p. 86 (I no longer have a year)
Additional note: Mrs. Frisby is also available in a film-strip format which I know nothing about.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. (unabridged) 5 cassettes. 7:25 hrs. Recorded Books. 1993. ISBN 1-55690-954-3. $39 (Rental: $13.50)

Gr 4-7--This unabridged recording of the Newbery Medal Award-winner by Robert C. O'Brien (Atheneum, 1971) is delightfully read by Barbara Caruso. Using a pleasant and expressive voice, with perhaps a hint of a British accent, she soon involves listeners in the fantasy of Mrs. Frisby and her mouse family. Her rendition of their conversations, and those of the other characters in the book, is engaging, as are the descriptive passages which link the dialogue. The pacing of the text is appropriate to the unfolding events and to the intended audience. The tapes follow the book word-for-word. A male narrator gives a brief introduction to the story, and quiet, unobtrusive technical directions at necessary interludes (e.g., fast-forward to the end, change tapes). The overall technical quality is very good, with consistency of tone and volume. No sound effects or music are included. A valuable addition for all libraries collecting recorded versions of children's literature.--Dana Watson, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge

Source: Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 5th Edition (Huck, Hepler, Hickman)


In September, a sixth-grade language arts teacher asked her students to keep a journal and react to Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. She divided the book into about ten parts and children responded in their journals after reading each assignment. The diversity of children's responses showed how differently individual readers engage with a story.

One girl challenged the believability of this fantasy:

"I wonder where Mr. Ages gets the paper for the bags for medicine?....I wonder how Mrs. Frisby can hold on to Jeremy's back. She's too small to wrap her 'arms' around it. I also wonder how mice can understand people talk." The teacher acknowledged her concerns and invited her to try to find some answers. She also reminded her that this was an animal fantasy which had its own rules.

Another girl sympathized with Mrs. Frisby's very modern predicament and mused about the humor of the story:

"Mrs. Frisby has a lot on her mind being a single parent with four children and one sick in bed with pneumonia. I would feel really pressured like that and Moving Day coming....I like the crow Jeremy. He's funny and stupid. He picked up the strong because it was sparkly. (That's cute.)" The teacher called attention to the way an author creates believability when she wrote back. "O'Brien has given the crow some human characteristics but has kept the animal habits faithful to the species."

Children asked questions: "I don't understand what the Boniface Estate is," said one. "I still have a question. What does NIMH stand for?" asked another. A third lamented, "All my questions aren't answered yet. I may seem like a bottomless pit of questions." The teacher reassured them that it is fine to have questions, clarified meanings, or referred a child to a classmate or back to a page in the book.

Some children worried about the morality of experimenting on animals: "I am very very very very very mad that they give those poor rats shocks plus giving the rats injections. I think it is very mean"; "It made me wonder if given injections, animals are in as much pain as they look." The teacher asked children to talk about the animal experimentation in this story and scientific experimentation in general.

In their final journal entries, some children were dissatisfied with the ending. "I think he should have put more pictures in and made the story a couple of chapters longer. He should have said something about like how Jeremy had a family." "Who dies in the rat hole?" Others found the sequels and filled themselves in on what happened next.

Writing journals allowed the children to work out the meaning of the story for themselves. They also revealed themselves to the teacher in ways that would help her plan discussions, choose books, select writing topics, and diversify instructions for the rest of the school year.

Based on journals selected from the sixth-grade language art class taught by Susan Steinberg, George Mason Elementary School, Alexandria, Virginia.