If you have been looking for the perfect present for any exterminators in your life... well, this book probably isn't it. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is the gripping tale of a community of animals living happily together on a farm. Lest you think this is a tale only for lovers of the order Rodentia (which means rodent, for those of you who don't speak Latin), though, never fear: there are also cats, crows, owls, and shrews. Thrown in for good measure are some humans who mostly just get in the way and cause problems for all of the more loveable characters. Typical!
The novel tells two stories at once: the story of widowed Mrs. Frisby and her struggles to protect her family, and the story of a group of highly trained, super smart rats. (They're the Jason Bournes of the rodent world, but without the violence. Or the never ending sequels.) Mrs. Frisby's story unfolds in real time, while most of the rats' story occurs in flashbacks, as they tell their story to Mrs. Frisby.
The novel opens with kind, sweet Mrs. Frisby in a load of trouble: her delicate son Timothy is burning up with a serious fever and a terrible cough. Luckily, Mrs. Frisby consults a wise white mouse named Mr. Ages who is a real whiz at making up medicinal powders. Soon, Timothy is out of danger from his sickness, but troubles for this family are only just beginning.
During the winter, the mice live in a cozy cinderblock in a farmer's field. Normally when the weather gets warm the farmer plows the field near their house, so they move to their summerhouse by the river. (Lucky mice with their waterfront view!) This year, however, Timothy is too weak to be moved and the warm weather is fast approaching. So Mrs. Frisby befriends a crow, Jeremy, who takes her to visit the forests' wisest animal, an old Owl. The Owl tells her that he can't help her, but that she should go to visit the rats. This turns out to be very sage advice.
Totally freaking out, Mrs. Frisby does as she's told and pays the nearby rat colony a visit. At first, they want nothing to do with her. Until, that is, she mentions that her name is Mrs. Frisby. Their little ears perk right up at this and all of a sudden, she is whisked away to their leader, Nicodemus. After some discussion, the rats agree to help her move her house out of danger. Mrs. Frisby is left with two questions: Why do they want to help her? and How on earth did these rats get so smart? The answers to these questions become clear as soon as the rats begin to tell her their story. Flashback alert!
The rats tell Mrs. Frisby a wild story about being captured and taken to some scary labs (NIMH stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, which is a real place, by the way) where they are experimented on, learn to read, get super brilliant, and eventually escape from captivity. They travel for a long time before they settle down on the farm where they meet Mrs. Frisby. Yet even though they have everything they need at the farm, the rats aren't satisfied. They want to live without stealing, and so they develop the Plan.
The Plan sounds like a new fad diet, but it is actually a roadmap for the rats' new civilization—a civilization in which they will grow their own food, make their own tools, and be totally independent. Mrs. Frisby's first question is answered as well, when she learns that her deceased husband, Jonathan, escaped with the rats from NIMH. (This means that he also had special abilities, though he never told Mrs. Frisby about them.)
Things are tense for the rats and for the Frisbys as the book nears the end. For a while, it seems like nobody will get what they want: it appears that the cinder block will not be moved and that the rats may be recaptured by those same nasty scientists who kidnapped them in the first place. But, owing to some extreme acts of bravery on the part of Mrs. Frisby and several of the lead rats, everything works out in the end. The house is moved and the rats begin to implement the Plan in a beautiful mountain spot, far, far, away from pesky humans.