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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Two Good Classic Children's Books (one about rodents, the other about Jake and his grandpa)

O'Brien, Robert C. (1971) Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.  New York:  Alladin

Opening lines:  Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a farmer named Mr. Fitzgibbon.  It was a winter house, such as some field mice move into when food becomes too scarce, and the living too hard in the woods and pastures.

I tried to read this book once when I was younger.  I had been told it was science fiction and so when I started reading it and found that it was not, in fact, about space travel, time travel, or alien invasions, bu rather about a mother mouse trying to protect her children and a community of hyper-intelligent rats who help her, I was disillusioned and stopped reading the book.  Recently, though, after years of not reading it, I found a copy to the book read it, and found it to be quite enchanting.

Mrs. Frisby is a field mouse, whose husband was killed by the farmer's cat years ago.  As the book opens, her son Timothy is very ill, and Mrs. Frisby is determined to figure out a way to help him.   A dangerous trip to the mouse who lives in the barn and serves as the doctor, leads her to undertake a quest, first to the see an owl (an encounter also fraught with danger) and then to meet with a secret society of rats.  She finds out that her late husband was a good friend to many more creatures than she thought, and she also finds out that the rats are experimental rats form the city, that their intelligence has been greatly increased, and that they intend to found their own self-sufficient community int he mountains.  Soon Mrs.Frisby and her new-found allies are neck deep in adventure.

This is a well-told tale, makes an excellent read-aloud book, is filled with the best kind of tension, but not terror, and not likely to draw fire from event the most persnickety parent.  It is a good one.  You should read it, especially if you haven't yet.

Park, Barbara (2000) The Graduation of Jake Moon  New York:  Atheneum.

Opening Lines:  There are these three eighth-grade boys.  They've just gotten out of school for the day.  And they're about to take off in different directions when they notice something going on in the trash dumpster at the other end of the parking lot.

Jake Moon has had a harder time in middle school than most kids.  He deals with the same middle school problems that everybody else does, but he also has to deal with Skelly.  Skelly is Jake's grandpa.  Skelly has Alzheimer's Disease and has for many years.  Jake is used to having the same conversations over and over with Skelly.  Jake is used to Skelly thinking he is Skelly's childhood friend.  In fact, Jake actually likes Skelly quite a bit.  But Skelly is requiring more and more care and Jack feels like he is sacrificing his life.  Then one day Skelly wanders off and Jack's life turns upside down.

This is an amazing book that speaks to the universal feeling that happens in middle school (and high school, and maybe adulthood too) that one is being pulled in different directions.  It shows a kid who is capable of great love in spite of his hard demeanor.  It also shows that even a grandparent buried beneath layers of Alzheimer's can express a mysterious love.  This would also make a great read-aloud book.

I doubt anyone would object to this book, but if they do, tell them to talk to me.

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