Reviews - 1972-1973

By Various

Source: Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1972

...Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Atheneum, $5.95).

Mrs. Frisby--a sympathetic sort of mouse whose only fault is the bedraggled and incongruous shawl she wears--comes upon a strange society of rats living under the rose bushes in the farmyard. Once imprisoned in a laboratory and treated with miracle drugs until their intelligence reached genius capacities, the community is armed with a purpose which embraces the most utopian ideals men have ever known.

How these magnificent rats (led by a tall, handsome, long- whiskered hero named Justin) save Mrs. Frisby's son Timothy from the perils of Moving Day, and how she in turn saves their dream from destruction, is the theme of this superbly suspenseful story for children eight and up.

Source: GRADE TEACHER, May/June 1972, p. 57

NEWBERY MEDAL. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, Illustrated by Zena Bernstein (Atheneum), 233 pp., $5.95, Gr. 4-6. The author demonstrated his gift as a storyteller in his fantasy The Silver Crown. The winner of the 1972 Newbery Medal is a tightly-constructed animal fantasy with a complex plot. Mrs. Frisby, a mouse whose sick son cannot be moved even though the plowing will destroy their winter home, seeks help from a community of rats who live on the farm. The main plot centers around the rats, who were captured and subjected to laboratory experiments that gave them the intelligence to escape and a long life span to use that intelligence to build a new society. The relationship between Mrs. Frisby and the rats is mutually helpful and provides much of the action of the story.

The book could provoke lively discussions about man's use of this intelligence, the mixed blessings of technology, and the possibility of building a utopian society. This book is superior storytelling with solid appeal for children.

Source: Times Literary Supplement, November 3rd, 1972 (p. 1317)

Of mice and rats

Robert C. O'Brien: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Gollancz. 1.40 pounds (575 01552 7)

[review of Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid omitted]

If Miss Sharp's mice are sweetly contrived trifles, Robert O'Brien's come from the very core of his creativity. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a major achievement which recalls a little--and this is evidence of its stature--another disturbing commentary on modern American man, The Mouse and his Child. Mr. O'Brien has something important to say; he puts his thoughts into a forceful and effective narrative form; he marshals his forces with unfailing discipline. English readers do not always concur with their American colleagues in approving a Newbery award, but here is a book of medal quality which is American to the bone and also truly international.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse. She struggles with the perils of her environment, to which her husband fatally succumbed, in the endless battle of nature. Late in the winter, when Mrs. Frisby is thinking about Moving Day and a summer house away from the destroying plough, her youngest child Timothy falls sick with an illness which deteriorates into pneumonia. She seeks advice, from a wise medico-mouse called Mr. Ages, then from the terrible old owl, lastly from the rats.

There is something strange about the rats who live behind the rosebush in Mrs. Fitzgibbon's farmhouse garden. They move with a disciplined rhythm which does not belong to the wild. When Mrs. Frisby, driven by maternal fear to overrule her fears of these monstrous rodents, visits them she discovers their secret. They are the rats of NIMH. NIMH is, perhaps, National Institute of Mental Hygiene. They rats have escaped from a laboratory where they had been subjected to tests which increased their life-span, developed their intelligence, and made them readers and potential technicians. In the country they have created a comfortable home, tapping Farmer Fitzgibbon's water and electricity and living in high style. But some of the rats have taken another characteristic of their captors and developed it--conscience. They have a Plan to go into the wild to found a rat utopia in which stealing has no place. the story rises splendidly to its climax and declines to a satisfactory and inconclusive close.

Although in the strictest sense not a fantasy, Mrs. Frisby obeys the laws of literary fantasy. There are obvious and valid parallels with human civilization, but these are not exploited to the detriment of the story. It can be read on several levels, and will so be read by children as well as adults. The writing is quietly competent, the humor unobtrusive. Above all, this tale of mice and rats is, in the deepest sense, humane.

Source: Margot Petts, Children's Book Review, December 1972, p. 185
Note: This comes second hand from the 'Children Literature Review', Vol. 2

Robert O'Brien has given us an extraordinary, thought- provoking book, which bears some relationship to Russel Hoban's The Mouse and his Child, not merely because of the obvious 'rodent' connections, but because of its ability to comment validly on our times, without once being unfaithful to the rules of the story game.

Recommended for children of eleven up, all adults and literate rats.

Source: The Junior Bookshelf, February 1973 p. 49

O'Brien , R. C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. 191 pp. Gollancz

This most unusual story well deserves its Newbery Medal. In the first place, it combines successfully two usually incompatible styles of narration, animals with human names and in human situations, and an accurate study of wild life. Mrs. Frisby is a mouse, and her daily activities--finding meals, nursing a sick child, going to visit a mouse doctor--sound human enough. When Timothy, however, shriveled with pneumonia, looks like a baby again, he appears "scarcely bigger than a marble", and when Mrs. Frisby crosses the farm, by an authentically inconspicuous route, it takes her two hours. Nature and the seasons are vividly described from a mouse's viewpoint. But there is more to the book than a good animal story: there is the clever conception of the rats of NIMH. To her surprise, Mrs. Frisby finds that her husband, recently killed by the cat, was well-loved by the unusual colony of rats under the rosebush, who willingly lift her house out of the path of the plough until Timothy is well enough to be moved to summer quarters. They use modern technological methods for the operation, for they have escaped from a laboratory experimenting with a drug to produce greater intelligence and longer life. It succeeded better than their captors foresaw; through their reading skill they were able to engineer an escape and set up their own colony, with electricity tapped from the farmer's supply. Moreover, some are guiding the community towards a self-sufficient existence where they will not have to be dependent on stealing food and raw materials. The morals are not labored, but social comment is everywhere, for instance the small group of rats too lazy and comfort-loving to join in the Plan, or the way animals large or small make valuable contributions to the common good. There is no slick ending, but something of a question mark. It is a beautifully written and thought-provoking book.


Source: Children's literature in Education, 11 (1973), pp. 45-46

Gene Kemp teaches in the oldest Church primary school in England. She is the author of the Prime of Tamworth Pig and Tamworth Pig Saves the Trees.

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

Tottering and reeling from the Exeter conference last year with Children's literature dancing in my head, revolving before my eyes, buzzing my ears and pouring from my lips, I cried, 'Enough. There must be a pause.' I yearned for a cool classic, pined for a heavily tome of impeccable research and infinite dullness. Entering the library to quench this thirst, I was greeted by my favourite librarian.

'Look,' said, she, and there stood Penelope Farmer's Castle of Bone and Robert C O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I gave a brief low moan and was lost, but my fall from grace was rewarded. For me, they were the best children's books of the year.

Yet my brief here requires a choice of one book, not two, so I plump for Mrs. Frisby in the final reckoning, for the exquisitely written Castle of Bone seems to me intensely private and not one I would recommend except to a child I knew well, whereas the other one is a book for children of all seasons; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH--lovely title--Newbery Medal Winner.

Anyone who has searched for a book to read to children between the ages of eight and eleven knows that they are less well served than the picture book reviewers at one end of the age range, and the near-adults at the other. This book helps to fill that gap admirably. at this age your dedicated reader will steer triumphantly through the shallows and rapids of Blyton and Biggles into the deeper waters of say, Garner and Garfield, but so many, boys especially, founder forever with Paddington. Mrs. Frisby, delightful in appeal to middle school readers, could also lead on to The Hobbit and Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child. For like those it examines the place of man (or mouse) in society, is concerned with growth and change, and take an objective view of the community. Since children today are subject to more pressures and faster changes than ever before in history, they need to be able to cope if they are to survive and this book can help by stimulating ideas and discussion about the world in which we find ourselves.

NIMH is the laboratory from which these highly trained super rats escape because they have learned to read, a skill that also taught them how hated they are, which they seek to alter through a different way of life. Mrs. Frisby is the mouse with moving problems whom they befriend, and their adventures are related in a gentle unpretentious style with pleasant characterization though it is the rats themselves, as a group, who dominate the book. Readers should enjoy the countryside descriptions and those of the laboratory. Faults there are some--the middle flashback episode is too large and dominating a portion of the book, and as a teacher I deplore the methods used in teaching the rats to read; I'm surprised they ever manage it but then they were super rats.

Finally, I find that far too many children's books are either introspective, retrospective or banal. I found this one broad in outlook, outgoing and original. By the way, it's a jolly good read. I couldn't put it down.

Source: excerpt from 'Votes for Animals' by Georgess McHargue American Libraries, September 1973, p. 423

....Much more challenging and plausible are Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (by Robert C. O'Brien, Atheneum, 1972), who must search for an environment in which the rats can develop their scientifically-bestowed intelligences unhindered. Although I have always been bothered by some of the book's cognitive inconsistencies (How does a merely normal mouse comprehend the minds of super-rats? etc.), it remains one of the few successful attempts to imagine rational creatures as affected by strictly animal culture, perceptions, instincts and perspectives.