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Intro

In A Nutshell

If you have ever looked, and we mean really looked, deep into the eyes of a rat and said, "Man, do I wonder what's going on in there," then this book is for you. (But, um, why were you looking deep into the eyes of a rat, again?)

In Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), a group of rats battle stereotypes, have their DNA altered, learn to read, make a great escape, and end up being serious interspecies good Samaritans when they help a widowed mouse mother save her home and her family. Yep, his novel has it all: talking animals, evil scientists, dopey humans and a brilliant know-it-all owl. More importantly, it asks us to stop giving rats a bad rap and to see them for their true awesomesauce nature.

When author Robert O'Brien wasn't writing about super-genius rats and their exploits, he wrote for the prestigious magazine National Geographic. And when he wasn't writing for National Geographic, he was accepting the prestigious Newbery Medal he won for Rats. And when he wasn't accepting the Newbery Medal, he was probably watching the acclaimed animated version of his book, The Secrets of NIMH, be a total '80s blockbuster.

O'Brien also wrote a bunch of other successful novels for young adults novels, the most well-known (after Rats, that is) of which is Z is for Zachariah. O'Brien's daughter Jane Conly also wrote a series of follow-up novels to Rats, so if you decide you just can't get enough of these furry brainiacs, you could check out Rasco and the Rats of NIMH  or R-T, Margaret and the Rats of NIMH.

 

Why Should I Care?

Let's take a quick quiz to find out what your compatibility is with this book.

Answer yes or no:

  • Have you ever seen someone large picking on someone small?
  • Can you think of a time when someone you know was discriminated against because of his or her looks or age or religion or anything else?
  • Do you ever think that science, while pretty cool, can sometimes go too far?
  • Are you a fan of any of the millions of commercials and/or movies that feature talking animals?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then this book has you written all over it. This puppy touches on all of these issues. All of the characters in this book fight injustice and work to have more power and control over their lives: the rats flee from captivity in a science lab and strive to lead better lives, and Mrs. Frisby, though tiny, believes that she has a right to raise her family in safety and security. Sure, maybe these characters have tails and claws and little twitchy noses, but what they want is something that we all can understand. They want to have a voice in their own lives and in their own destinies.

As it turns out, questions about animals, control, rights, and destiny (along with bell-bottoms, feathered bangs, gas shortages, and the Bee Gees) were a big thing in the 1970s, when this book was published. Most people who are in the know about the animal rights movement believe that it was during the Decade of Disco that this modern movement really got cooking. Therefore, it's not at all surprising that Robert O'Brien chose to write a book in 1971 that is at least partially about animal rights. Rats deserve a little love now and then, too, don't you think?

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