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Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971)

by Robert C. O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Rats of NIMH (1)

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9,562153645 (4.18)1 / 200
Having no one to help her with her problems, a widowed mouse visits the rats whose former imprisonment in a laboratory made them wise and long lived.
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Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)
8434816016
  archivomorero | Jun 25, 2022 |
5/13/22
Remember that little promise to myself that I mentioned in my last review, that I would try to focus on reading the books I already have? Yeah, total joke. Found a bunch of warm-and-fuzzy-childhood-memories books in the local little free library, and of course I have to read them before passing them on to the kids in the family who are actually the target audience!

5/15/22
That was a lot more philosophical than I remembered. Pretty sure I was only quizzed on the plot points, not given reflection prompts such as, "Do you agree with Nicodemus that civilization will stop evolving if life gets too easy?"

[Which, no, I don't. I think that if it's easier to do the basics of survival, then intelligent creatures will put their minds to other things, like arts and education and overall improving life.]

Ahem. Anywho...

Mrs. Frisby is a tremendously plucky little mouse who, it must be said, is way smarter than she's given any credit for. Seriously, she learns to read and keeps up intellectually with mice and rats who have been genetically enhanced, and yet none of them comment on this. She's a widow with four little children to care for. Unfortunately, her youngest is deathly ill and the annual move from winter quarters in the Fitzgibbon's farmhouse garden to damp, springtime summer quarters in the forest would probably kill him. She saves a crow who, as a favor, takes her to an owl--which, of course, would eat her under other circumstances--for advice. Said owl advises her to talk to the strange rats that live in the rosebush near the farmhouse.

The rats, it turns out, are super-intelligent escapees from NIMH, where they were genetically modified to have very long lives and, crucially, very advanced intelligence. They're engineers and mechanics, as well as little philosophers who've started thinking about why, if they're living a life of luxury under the rosebush, with electricity and elevators and running water, they don't feel content. Part of it is the shame of living of stealing. That I get. The other is that life is too easy because they don't have to work hard. That sounds uber-capitalist and gross. But I digress. The rats have decided to not only strike out on their own in the forest, but to go primitive, destroying their tools and engines rather than, for example, figuring out how to generate their own electricity.

Since Mrs. Frisby's husband was one of two mice also genetically modified, and who was great friends with the rats, they put their engineering prowess to work to move Mrs. Frisby's cinderblock winter home to a safer location. To assist their efforts, Mrs. Frisby volunteers to drug the farm cat, Dragon (great name), so that it won't attack the rats at work. Dang, mama! While at it, she learns some crucial information that could mean life or death for the rats of NIMH.


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a grand adventure that I loved when I read it in class in 4th grade and loved when I read it again as an adult. Maybe it's the size of the characters that made their exploits feel so big and exciting: I did love books about animals, dolls, and small people who adapted human-sized things into them-sized uses. The narrative is extremely efficient--there's never a dull moment between Mrs. Frisby's story and Nicodemus's story about where the rats came from--without skimping on atmospheric details. So often I read books from my childhood and realize how much heavy lifting my own imagination did. Not the case here.

Now, it will come as no surprise to anyone that I found this charming book--originally published in 1971--sadly more sexist than I remembered. Poor Mrs. Frisby has no first name, though her dead husband does. Obviously the rats must have females among them, but the only one we ever meet is a silly child with a silly crush on an adult rat. They only time other female rats are mentioned is for "the wives'" silly desire to decorate the rats' home. Let's not forget the shrewish literal shrew who gets in the way of progress. What silly females! And although Mrs. Frisby rocks all the socks--braves crows, owls, cats, rats, humans, and more--no one ever goes, "Huh, that's some mouse."

Ah well, you can't change the past. Though the new The Cricket in Times Square edition is trying. O'Brien died just a few years after this book released, so it would be up to his estate to decide whether they would like to massage the text a little to make it a bit more modern. Give Mrs. Frisby a name, make a couple of the male rats female, etc. It would take very little!

Good, solid memories. Read it with your kids!

Quote Roundup
p. 24) After talking to a crow: Birdbrain, thought Mrs. Frisby, and then recalled what her husband used to say: The size of the brain is no measure of its capacity. And well she might recall it, for the crow's head was double the size of her own.

p. 26) "We all help one another against the cat," she said.
This repeats a couple times throughout the book. As a cat owner, I was tickled. Good thing the Fitzgibbons didn't have a dog!

p. 160) From Nicodemus's narrative: But there was one book, written by a famous scientist [how do the rats know this?], that had a chapter about rats. Millions of years ago, he said, rats seemed to be ahead of all the other animals, seemed to be making a civilization of their own. They were well organized and built quite complicated villages in the fields. Their descendants today are the rats known as prairie dogs.
But somehow it didn't work. The scientist thought maybe it was because the rats' lives were too easy; while other animals (especially the monkeys) were living in the woods and getting tougher and smarter, the prairie dogs grew soft and lazy and made no more progress.
I wonder who this scientist is. I get the feeling that this scientific book may have been what inspired O'Brien to write his own children's fiction book!

p. 175) "You've got this idea stuck in your head [said one rat]. We've got to start from nothing and work hard and build a rat civilization. I say, why start from nothing if you can start with everything? We've already gota civilization."
"No [said Nicodemus]. We haven't. We're just living on the edge of somebody else's, like fleas on a dog's back. If the dog drowns, the fleas drown, too."
Very good closing point by Nicodemus. But I'm also a bit with Jenner. A civilization doesn't have to start from nothing, and in any case, rat civilization is already going to be built on human civilization because everything they know, they learned from humans! ( )
  books-n-pickles | May 15, 2022 |
A great fantasy book for upper elementary levels. Gives insight on the importance of friendship, loyalty, and how you can be tiny but mighty. Its about Mrs. Frisby and her children seeking a new home that wont get invaded by the farmer. She works together with the rats of NIMH, who have their own little story as well. All in all, its adventurous, clever, and wholesome. ( )
  ryleesalvey | Mar 3, 2022 |
What is Mrs. Frisby to do when one of her children is sick and will not be better in time for the big move? Can the mysteriously smart rats that live under the rose bush help her solve the problem? These animals may seem simple and their problems may seem small, but this story packs big surprises and a fantastic story! ( )
  LectricLibrary | Feb 16, 2022 |
This was such a clever little book! I really enjoyed reading it! I remember, when I was younger, I had watched the movie The Secret of NIMH, but I could hardly remember what it was about. After reading this I am going to have to go back and see the similarities between the two stories. As I read the book, I love the conflicts that occurred in the story and I loved reading the history of the rats who escaped from NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health) where they escaped from the humans. It was great and I was glad to know how they had a connection with Mrs. Frisby as well. I highly recommend this book to everyone of all ages. Mrs. Frisby is such a strong character and I love how she is willing to do anything for her children. She is an inspiration. ( )
  klcarmack | Nov 12, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 153 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert C. O'Brienprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernstein, ZenaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gazi, Edward S.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
To Catherine Fitzpatrick
First words
Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a farmer named Mr. Fitzgibbon.
Quotations
It was this, of course, that made our life so easy that it seemed pointless. We did not have enough work to do because a thief's life is always based on somebody else's work.
All doors are hard to unlock until you have the key.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, also published as: The Secret of NIMH. Do not combine with the film The Secret of NIMH.
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Having no one to help her with her problems, a widowed mouse visits the rats whose former imprisonment in a laboratory made them wise and long lived.

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Book description
Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma.
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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