Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Borrowers, by Mary Norton

This book tells of the adventures of tiny people who live in the walls and floors of a British house. They have a tweenish daughter who befriends a normal-sized boy visiting the house. My kids liked the whimsical explanations of how the tiny people make use of the small things they can steal or "borrow" from the humans, though lots of it was lost by virtue of my kids now knowing what blotting paper or hazelnut shells are. The occasional one that they understood, though, would provide big laughs.

I don't know about this book. It was more enjoyable to read to my children than some of our recent outings (The Littles to the Rescue and Bubble and Squeak are pretty bad), but there were still some things about it that bothered me. Specifically, young 21st-century American children don't appreciate character dialog written in late 19th-century working-class British dialect, and are just confused by anachronisms that Norton didn't have to explain to her initial readers in 1952. Also, the structure of "a story in a story," with old Mrs. May retelling when her brother was a young boy and met the Borrowers, was pretty advanced for my kids (ages six and five, though because I am a modern parent, I think they are such geniuses that they are probably on the autism spectrum), especially since Mrs. May disappears for over 100 pages, leaving the reader to forget that the narrator is anyone other than a nameless omniscient presence. Lastly, I was a little put off with the way the REAL narrator tells us Mrs. May's shifty mannerisms, raising issues of her reliability. I mean, come on, this is a kids' book, not high literature. If the narrator is unreliable, say so.

My kids generally liked it, though. They were happy to learn that there are more Borrowers books, and they want to get them from the library soon. I can't really see how the Mrs. May narrator device would work in any sequels, so I'd be more inclined to read them. The chapters were a little long for my liking, causing us to have to split most of them. My kids accept chapter breaks pretty uneasily but relent to the unseen authority that decided this was a point in the story at which we need to stop for the night. When it's just me declaring that we'd reached a good stopping place, mutiny is never far afield.

In my diligent preparatory research for writing this review (also known as Wikipedia reading), I learned that there has been a more-recent movie adaptation of this book, and that it was critically well received. I should probably write movie reviews of films based on books I've read, comparing them, since lately we've been very disappointed with book-based kids' movies. If I end up seeing the movie, I'll be sure to include a review of it here.

Rating: 4 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

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