Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH won the Newbery Medal in 1972, which is the reason I picked up the book. I had heard about it here and there, and am always on the lookout for books that I think the Bachsters might enjoy, preferably award winning children's literature!
The story is about Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse who lives in a cinder block in a farmer's field. She must move her family for the summer, but her youngest son, Timothy, is ill and won't survive the move. Mrs. Frisby befriends a crow named Jeremy, who suggests she visit the wise owl for advice. After an exciting ride on Jeremy's back, she puts her fears aside and meets with the owl, who suggests she ask the rats for help. Mrs. Frisby does as the owl suggests, and in the process learns a lot about her late husband, and about the lives of the mysterious rats.
First of all, I love that the protagonist of the book is a mother. Now, I know I'm a bit biased here, but I think it's wonderful for young readers/listeners to hear about things from a parent's perspective. Mrs. Frisby makes decisions based on how they will affect her children, like the need to hurry back home to take care of the children, which happens a few times in the story. This is not a perspective that we see very often in children's books, and I found it both refreshing and well, relatable!
I also enjoyed the pace of the story, and its structure. It moves along at a nice pace, albeit a bit slowly. But it's just enough where nothing feels rushed, nor does it feel stagnant. There is also a lengthy backstory about halfway through. I liked this because I think it adds a layer to the story, and challenges young readers to keep the timeline straight. And the author pulls everything together nicely, so that what's happening in the present makes sense now that we know the past. And there are some timeless themes in the book - friendship, taking care of family, helping others & working together, to name a few.
I do wish that we learned in the story what NIMH stands for (I don't remember it being in there - but I found out later when I was reading about the book on some web sites). I also think there are some parts of the story that probably wouldn't interest all readers, like the workings of the rats' elevator or the layout of the fake rat hole and escape tunnels. These details probably were of great interest to the author (the reason why they are in the story in the first place) and add some nice level of detail to the story, but I personally thought some of it was a bit over-detailed. But that's probably just me.
I realize that I've read a lot more Caldecott books than I have Newbery books (they are a lot faster to read, on the whole). But the Newbery Medal books that the Bachsters and I have read recently (like this one or .... this one) have all been wonderfully told, imaginative stories. I'm definitely going to start seeking out some more.
Do you have a favorite Newbery Medal book?