Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Wow! What a wonderful discussion! My fourth-grade lit-lovers are good little readers! I was worried that this book would be too challenging because it’s rather complicated, but the girls had no problem at all; they followed the plot, picked up on many of the themes, and most importantly, they enjoyed reading the book.

So, bearing in mind my three criteria, is this a good choice for a Mother/Daughter Book Group? You bet!

The Story: Mrs. Frisby, a perfectly ordinary field mouse, must move her entire house to a new location so it isn’t run over by Farmer Fitzgibbon’s plow. The dilemma: her son, Timothy, is recuperating from a near-fatal illness and cannot be moved. What to do? If only Mr. Frisby hadn’t died and could help solve this problem! Maybe he does help, though, because isn’t it he who had told Mrs. Frisby, “All doors are hard to unlock until you have the key”? Mrs. Frisby, determined to save both her home and Timothy, embarks on an adventure to find that very key (metaphorically speaking!) and she is aided by a charming crow, a grumpy old owl, and a pack of highly intelligent rats. The rats are in the midst of their own adventure–and in search of their own “key”–and you will want to turn over every page of this book to find out how these creatures solve their own, and each other’s, problems.

Questions: This book is so thought-provoking! I love literature that is multi-layered, and this story certainly is. I think that’s why it appealed to the moms as well as to the girls. Part of our discussion focused on the secrets everyone was keeping in the story, and what type of secrets they were. We compared these secrets to those that were kept in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and determined that the main difference was that in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, many secrets weren’t even known to exist until they actually came to light.

Among other things, we also discussed hard choices, bravery, the “soft life” versus a life with more work (I LOVED the girls’ solution to this one: live and work in a place like Thorn Valley, but make sure to have a vacation home where you can go and have the “soft life” as often as you like!), prejudice against certain creatures, animal rights, and searching for the “key” when problem-solving.

Our discussion could have gone longer, but time was up–a sure sign of a great book for a Mother/Daughter Book Group!

Life Lessons: Two of the (many) take-aways from this story are 1) keep searching for that “key” when you have a problem to solve, and 2) sometimes a question doesn’t have one answer that is right for everybody, but we must still ask the question and think about it. The girls were very excited to discuss whether we should use rats or other animals for scientific research, and we determined that it is very hard to find the “right” answer to that one.

Bottom Line: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH rocks!

From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Mother/Daughter Book Group for Fourth-Graders! Our book: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. An excellent discussion with a most excellent group of little lit-lovers today! We covered so much, but what really got me excited was my Aha! Moment—the reason I do what I do!—when I saw, from our group conversation, something in the story that I hadn’t seen when I read it on my own: Secrets! And how very hard they are to keep!!!

Remember my criteria:

1. The Story. Well, who couldn’t love this story about two suburban schoolchildren who run away from home—in style! They don’t just run anywhere; they run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and they live there without anyone finding them!

2. Questions. Lots of them! We stayed in the book, and came out of it. One of our favorite out of the book questions was “if you were to run away (NOT recommended), where would you go?” This is a harder question than at first it looks!

3. Life Lessons. Well, we really dug deep and came up with the realization that secrets, of which there are many in this story, are very hard to keep. Why do you think that is? We determined that we feel special when we know a secret. We feel different from everyone else. Why, then, do we feel compelled to share the secret? (I wonder…do we always need an audience, someone to tell us that “yes, you are special”?) We also realized that you can look at the entire book as Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler revealing her secret to Saxonberg! I think that if you really think about it, you’ll agree—secrets are hard to keep secret!

There are many other lessons to take away from this story, but my favorite comes from E.L. Konigsburg herself, written as an afterword in 2002 (for the 35th anniversary of the book). She says, “ ‘Angel’ became part of Claudia’s story about finding herself, about how the greatest adventure lies not in running away but in looking inside, and the greatest discovery is not in finding out who made a statue but in finding out what makes you.”

When You Reach Me

When I was a child, A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books. But here’s my problem–I rarely remember a book. I just remember–quite clearly–how I felt while I was reading it. And I remember feeling wonderfully enthralled while reading Madeline L’Engle’s tale of time-travel. Now I’ve just read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, a book that is getting lots of “buzz”–Newbery is often mentioned in conjunction with the title–and I enjoyed it so much, I want to go back and re-read A Wrinkle in Time. Stead acknowledges the “astonishing imagination and hard work of Madeleine L’Engle” and When You Reach Me often refers to A Wrinkle in Time, so I think it would be fun to read one right after the other. I might suggest reading L’Engle’s book first, though.

When You Reach Me is chock full. It’s chock full of adventure, of plot and sub-plot, of characters, of themes. The narrative device is unusual and there is a mixing of genres. Best of all, there is mystery and the story is written with enough suspense to keep the reader turning the page. So, what about my three criteria when choosing a book for my Mother/Daughter Book Groups?

1) The Story: This is one of those books that I think the moms will enjoy reading as much as the daughters, especially if they have already read A Wrinkle in Time. Miranda, the protagonist, is a likable sixth-grade girl living in 1979 New York City with her single mom. Miranda’s mom has just been selected to be a contestant on the TV show The $20.000 Pyramid. This would be exciting enough–they could really use that money to buy all sorts of things they need–but Miranda also is confronted with the fact that someone–she doesn’t know who–has predicted that her mom would be chosen. And this isn’t the only prediction that the stranger has made, and that has come true. In mysterious and secret notes, this stranger has told Miranda about things that will happen before they do, and he’s been right every time. Now he says it’s a matter of life and death that she help him–and keep it secret from her mom and her best friends. But who is he and how can she help?

This book has a lot going on, but the author ties it all together in the end, and I think it works. The girls will have to be thinking while they are reading, which I always see as a good thing, but they may not even realize how hard they are thinking because the story is so gripping!

2) Questions: This book poses a lot of questions, both the little and the big kind. I hadn’t thought much about time travel until I read this book, but now I find it fascinating to ponder!

3)Life Lessons: My favorite theme of the book is connections, the thread that connects every action to every other action and every person to every other person. And every time to every other time. It’s very thought-provoking, and worth reminding ourselves of. Remember E.M. Forster?