This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine
This fantasy book by Mary Norton is the first in the "Borrowers" series and is published by Harcourt Children's Books, an imprint of Harcourt, Inc.
The Borrowers is written for kids ages 8 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Borrowers are tiny people who live tucked away on the barely visible fringes of human society. The large English manor in this story was a place that used to support both a sizeable human population and many Borrower families (the Overmantels, Harpsichords and Rain-Pipes of the Stables, just to name a few). But with food shortages and other changes, many Borrower families emigrate to the open country beyond the mansion.
The Clocks — father Pod, mother Homily and daughter Arrietty — have survived comfortably beneath the kitchen floorboards because of the location, Pod's skill and extensive safety measures. But one night, a human visitor — referred to as the Boy — discovers Pod.
Although the family knows that it would be safest to emigrate immediately, which Arrietty sees as an adventure, Homily can't bear the thought. They decide to stay, but Arrietty can no longer continue to live as a protected child — she must learn the realities of life as a Borrower, both for her own safety and the family's.
Unfortunately, on her first Borrowing mission with Pod, she wanders too far outside and is seen by the same human Boy that saw her father earlier. She and the Boy talk for some time, and by the end, both's perception of the world has been rather shaken. The Boy agrees to deliver a letter to Arrietty's distant relatives, and Arrietty keeps the incident a secret from her parents. However, her father discovers her in the Boy's room one night discussing the letter, which has come back from the distant Borrower relatives. Arrietty's parents are devastated. Although no harm was intended, they can see only danger and disaster on the horizon.
Indeed, when the giant screwdriver cracks and raises their ceiling (kitchen floorboard), it appears worse than they could have dreamed. However, the Boy comes bearing gifts, and the fine dollhouse furniture he offers slowly wins even Homily's grudging heart. Soon, the Clocks are living a life of luxury. However, with this new access to Manor goods, Homily begins to ask for things that might actually be missed by the humans, and before long they are.
The cook, Mrs. Driver, suspects either a thief in the house or a test by her mistress. One night she catches a brief glimpse of the Borrower family beneath the floorboard, plus all the missing items in their "nest.” In no time, the town rat catcher arrives to seal off the nest exits and pump in poison gas. The Boy secretly pries open an escape hatch for the Clocks, but cannot confirm their escape or survival. Many years later, however, the Boy's sister travels to the manor and leaves a gift where she thinks the Clocks may have escaped to — and although she can't prove it, she thinks it was taken and put to good use.
Other Belief Systems
The story is based on the legend that little people take things and make humans ask questions such as "Where did all those safety pins go?"
The rat catcher and others are called to exterminate the Borrowers' home. The potential for violence is scarier than what actually happens. The Boy does take a pickax to the hole under the clock (inside the house). But he can't break through the iron sheeting, so he slips outside where he can pry off the grating on the outside of house.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How do the Borrowers define the difference between stealing and borrowing?
- How do they defend borrowing from humans?
Why won't they "borrow” things that might be missed later? Explain.
How does Mrs. Driver show her Borrower tendency with some of her mistress's things?
Where should the line be drawn for her? Why?
Why do Pod and Homily keep so many gates up through the corridors of their house?
- What is good about the gates?
- What might be bad about them?
- When does too much freedom become dangerous?
- When might too many limits become dangerous as well?
How would you define what makes for wise limits?
What does Arrietty learn from the Boy?
- Why might the idea that the world doesn't revolve around either Arrietty or the Boy surprise both children?
When did you understand that the world doesn't revolve around you?
How does greed play a role in this story?
- When do things get out of hand?
- What might greed look like in your life?
- How could that greed hurt you?
Why does God want us to be content with what we have?
Why does Mrs. Driver react like she does?
- Why doesn't she believe the Boy?
- Why is she so determined to catch the Clocks?
- Tell about a time when you reacted like Mrs. Driver and your reaction was wrong.
Drunkenness: Regular (nightly) drunkenness is not portrayed as alcoholism, but as a harmless pleasure for an old woman. She is considered good company by Pod.
Theft: The line between using and stealing may be blurred by this story. Borrowers seem to think it's no more possible to "steal” from humans (by using their resources) than we steal from nature or the world by using the things around us. But they do seem to draw a limit at things that could be missed (which might imply that they recognize another's ownership).
Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for The Secret World of Arrietty.
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Readability Age Range
8 and up
Harcourt Children's Books, an imprint of Harcourt, Inc
1952 Carnegie Medal Winner