I think on principle that I ought to make my son read the book before we watch the movie… but the dvd at the library was just so tempting. We had family movie day with “The Secret World of Arrietty”, after which he was excited enough to want me to read him the book. Yay!
The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
The Borrowers was a family favorite growing up. We read the whole series aloud at least once, and I know I read all the books to myself even more often. It’s always a little worrisome reading books like that to my son: what if he doesn’t love them as much as I do? I remembered the first chapter, which sets up the frame story and has no Borrowers in it, as the Most Tedious First Chapter Ever, and warned my son of this when we started. But neither of us found it so bad this time around. For anyone who isn’t familiar with The Borrowers, it tells the story of a family of tiny people who live under the floors and in the walls of houses, living off of the small, easily lost things that they “borrow” from the humans around them. Although the story is set a century ago, the details of their daily life are described so carefully that it doesn’t seem like fantasy. Having Borrowers in the house explains perfectly all the small things that go missing, all the time. I could see my son paying close attention to the details of things like the construction of their stove and the multiple safety gates keeping their living quarters safe from things like mice. This first book in the series is different from the rest of the series in that the Borrowers are treated as possibly imaginary in the frame story – an older lady telling of the adventures with Arrietty which her brother claimed to have had as a child, and which she is still not quite sure really happened. The rest of the series, as I recall, focusses just on the Borrowers and leaves the humans out altogether. But here, The Boy’s friendship with Arrietty provides the catalyst for the rest of the story, as well as balancing out the genders of our main characters for great cross-gender appeal. The Boy and Arrietty form a forbidden friendship, which causes trouble when the Boy, encouraged by Arrietty’s mother Homily, starts “borrowing” more and more things from around the house for them. However, his midnight delivery expeditions are eventually found out, leading to the discovery of the Borrowers and attempts to exterminate them. I remember Madeline L’Engle once said that nearly all of the conflicts in good literature come from the characters breaking at least one of the Commandments, and here, it’s definitely greed that gets the Borrowers into trouble, though Arrietty’s insatiable curiosity is a large contributing factor as well. The excitement builds slowly but steadily, with well-drawn characters and a setting that brings the early part of the last century to life again. The boy gave it a “thumbs up”, and I found it every bit as delightful as I remembered it. I’ve included both the rather dull cover of the edition we read and the more brightly-colored cover of my childhood edition.