Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In praise of Summer Reading and Mrs. Frisby

On June 1, Summer Reading signups began here at the Newport Library. That means kids of all ages can sign up to earn prizes for reading. It’s a no-pressure situation: children are rewarded for reading how much and whatever they want.

It’s a fun time, and the enthusiasm of the young participants is always exciting to see. It’s also a reminder of how wonderful children’s books can be.

One of my favorites, when I was a girl, was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien, a book that I surely read a dozen times. I recently picked up Mrs. Frisby and read it again, and it’s just as good now as when I was ten.

 It’s the story of a field mouse, Mrs. Frisby, who lives with her children in Farmer Fitzgibbon’s garden. (Quick - how many other kids’ books can you think of with a mother as the protagonist? Zero? Me too.)

The story starts out with a very simple problem: one of Mrs. Frisby’s children is sick. In a seemingly unrelated incident, Mrs. Frisby rescues a crow from a cat, and gets a ride on the crow’s back. The crow advises her to seek advice from an owl about her sick son. The owl tells her about the rats of NIMH, who are strange beyond anything that Mrs. Frisby has ever known - or are they? Mrs. Frisby learns that she and her family have a hidden connection to the rats.

I love the way this book unfolds, starting simply and expanding to encompass new insights and realizations. Every time the book’s scope changes, the reader gets a whole new perspective, just as Mrs. Frisby gains a new perspective on her garden patch when she first rides on the back of a flying crow.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a great story for readers of all ages - good for reading aloud to little ones, and good to curl up with on a sunny afternoon by yourself, too. (I do not particularly recommend the cartoon movie, The Secret of NIMH, by the way.)

And if you know any kids who like to read and want to earn loot for doing so, send them along to the library for the Summer Reading Program.

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