Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
by Robert C. O’Brien (1973)
Robert C. O’Brien’s Newbery Award-winning Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is one of the longest books recommended for One School, One Book. It is a beguiling and unforgettable book that tells two stories. First we meet Mrs. Frisby, a mouse who lives on a farm, who must find new living quarters for her family, a task beyond her physical capabilities. Her search takes her to the mysterious, secretive, industrious rats who also live on the farm. And these rats — the rats from NIMH — turn out to have their own story, an unexpected, captivating tale of capture, experimentation, and escape — a story whose nine chapters are the secret heart of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.
One might think that a chapter book 235 pages long is too much for younger children. And it is true that Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a more ambitious One School, One Book choice. But the story delights and captivates younger children because they are able to identify with the plight of animals. They empathize with Mrs. Frisby and her sick son as she visits a crow, an apothecary, an owl and eventually the rats. They may not understand what NIMH is exactly, but they still thrill to the plight of capture and escape (via air conditioning ducts). Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH eventually has larger themes to explore including independence and sacrifice.
It all sounds like a lot but that’s why it’s been charming readers — children and families alike — for decades. A fine example of how One School, One Book can bring families together, holding the attention of first graders and fifth graders simultaneously, thus building a culture of reading.
(O’Brien died in 1973, but his daughter, Jane Leslie Conly, wrote two worthy sequels, Racso and the Rats of NIMH and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH.)