The Borrowers

Star summary: 

4- for "living" characters & setting, rich writing, engaging plot, with evident morals (despite the lack of moral wisdom from adults within the story).

Have you ever lost something you swore you left right there? Maybe you did. Maybe they were Borrowed. The way Mrs. May told it, her younger brother actually met a family of these little people, these Borrowers. At one time, they lived almost every where, but now they are rarely seen. Pod, Homily & Arrietty (14) Clock were named for the clock in Great-Aunt Sophy's house, the clock that hid their front door. Their furniture is made of cigar boxes, their walls are hung with postage stamps, and their gates are locked with safety pins. Arrietty's only view of the outside world is the grate high on her living room wall; the consequences of being Seen by a "human bean" were just too serious to risk. Pod, her father, was the only family member to go Borrowing; that is, secretly re-purposing food and possessions of the larger inhabitants of the house. One evening, however, their cozy little home under the kitchen is forever changed, when the home's newest inhabitant-- Mrs. May's little brother-- Sees Pod. A few days later, on Arrietty's first Borrowing expedition, he Sees her too, and the two strike up a completely unconventional friendship which benefits them all; the boy is no longer lonely, and the Clocks have all the beautiful furniture they could want (the boy is able to get it from an old dollhouse upstairs). When greed takes them a bit too far, and they are discovered, they risk not only losing their home, but their very lives. Did they escape? Did they even exist? You will have to decide for yourself!

I picked up this book for the first time last week, remembering that my younger sister enjoyed it as a first grader. I found it and its original illustrations (by Beth & Joe Krush) delightful! (Who doesn't love the idea that little people are living among us? It fascinates children everywhere!) I love books in which our familiar world is turned inside-out, giving us the rare privilege of seeing ourselves in a new and foreign light. This happens in most of our favorite books-- we are the Muggles of Harry Potter's world, the Anaweir (sounds like Unaware) of the Heir Chronicles, and the inhabitants of the "strange country" of George MacDonald's Lost Princess. The Borrowers are quite sure that the Big People- that is, "Human Beans,"- exist to provide borrow-able items for their small counterparts, that there are far fewer of us than of them, and that stealing from a fellow Borrower is quite different from borrowing from a giant. As Arrietty interacts with the Boy, she learns that all is not as she had assumed.

Cautions? None.

Themes: The fallacy of belief in the superiority of one's culture; Arrietty must learn to view her family & their practices in view of the larger world, just as the Boy must learn to relate to the Borrowers. The danger of greed.

Bottom line? We usually are born thinking that our way of life is the best that there is, and that all we have known is all that there is. Experience often prompts us to take a step back and evaluate our own culture and values more objectively.

Talking points:
- List some of the things Arrietty & the Boy believed to be true and found to be false.
- Compare and contrast our & the Borrower's cultures: What does each fear and value? How does each approach the challenge of keeping a society in working order? We can't say that a culture decides what is right & wrong; sometimes cultures are wrong. How can we evaluate/judge different cultural beliefs (especially our own)? (using the lens and standard of God's Word. (One discussion topic could be the Borrower views on stealing.)
- Why do you think Arrietty was so excited at the thought of "emigrating"? Compare the Clock family's situation with historical events such as the American Pioneer movement, the Irish Potato Famine, and the colonial era. What fears and hopes do all displaced people share?
- Do you think that the Borrowers were real, or do you think that the Boy made them up? List your reasons for your belief.

Appropriate audience: Third- fifth grade (ages 8-10). Children ages 5 and up would enjoy this as a read-aloud.

Stars: 4 stars
Characters & Setting Pod, Homily & Arrietty are fully human, despite their small stature (complete with their own speech patterns). We understand them, we like them, we believe in them. Even minor characters such as Mrs. May, Kate & Mrs. Driver are believable. Full star.
Plot-- Original twist on the familiar "forbidden friendship/coming-of-age" theme. Full star.
Writing-- This book is in the solid older, English style that is so well suited to children's stories. The vocabulary is rich, the imagery vivid, and the perspective insightful without being overbearing. Full star.
Character-building/Eternal perspective -- There is plenty of food for imagination and thought. Arrietty is a "typical" child who questions her parents, has her own motives and dreams; is fairly obedient yet not totally submissive. Unfortunately, none of the adults, tiny or large (except for Mrs. May) provide any real guidance to the characters nor to the readers. The boy's aunt is bed-ridden, kind, but given to drunkenness. The house-keeper is vindictive and greedy. Homily is vain and proud, if good-hearted. Pod lets his wife have her way in everything. Arrietty is left raising herself in many ways, and in this sense the story lacks a moral compass. Half a star.
Wow factor -- creative, engaging world building on the rich mythology of "The Little People" of the British Isles. Half a star.

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