Study Guide

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

By Robert C. O'Brien

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Introduction

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.

What is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH About and 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?

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Resources


Rats and Mazes
This site will give you an idea of what a plain-old, non-super rat can do in a maze. Imagine what Justin could do in these suckers.

Prairie Dogs
These furry friends are the close cousins of rats that Nicodemus believes have developed their own advanced society.

The National Institute of Mental Health
Here's the website for the real NIMH. Do you think Dr. Schultz is up to any of his old tricks?

Movies or TV Productions

The Secret of N.I.M.H. Trailer
Take a look at the original trailer for the movie. We think you'll notice some differences between the book and the flick. And by some we mean a ton.

The Secret of N.I.M.H
If reading about these rats makes you want to watch a movie about these rats, check this out for some info about the 1982 film.

Articles & Interviews

Robert C. O'Brien Profile
For facts about the life and career of Rats author Robert O'Brien, check out this profile.

Book Review of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Here is a quick book review for you Shmoopsters, in case you're in the market for a critical take.


Rat Staring Contest with Creepy Background Music
Here's your chance chance to watch rats being weird without actually being around rats. Think they can read?

Who Says We Can't Be Friends? Unusual Animal Friends
Hopefully this book reminded you how you love interspecies friendships. But just in case it didn't, this montage oughta do the trick.


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH Audiobook
Do the characters in this audiobook sound the way you pictured them in your mind?


Meet the Author
Ladies and gents, may we present Mr. Robert C. O'Brien?