Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Book Clubs: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Book Club discussion groups are a great way to get kids excited about books and discussing them. This is the second in a series of posts sharing some of my favorite books for Book Club discussions. Please click on the "Book Club" tag to read more.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH


Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971) by Robert C. O'Brien and winner of the Newbery Award. I loved this story as a child, and kids today like it a lot too! (Be aware that some students may have seen the animated movie from the 80s ... which bears strikingly little resemblance to the original book.) Also, it wasn't until many, many years later that I finally solved one of the unsolved mysteries in the book - NIMH - National Institutes of Mental Health!


This childhood classic features the trials and tribulations of near-farm life for a family of field mice. When Mrs. Frisby's youngest son falls sick, she must seek out the help of some unlikely companions to help save his life. This story packs a lot of adventure as well as a mystery told through a lengthy flashback-style retelling.

Reading Level: 5.8
Guided Reading Level: V
Lexile Level: 790L

Big Ideas and Discussion Topics

  • Responding to challenges. Mrs. Frisby faces many challenges and set-backs during the course of the story. This is a great one for teaching perseverance and teamwork as well.
  • Multiple story lines. A large chunk of the middle of the book fills in the backstory about the rats. Kids have to practice balancing both the present-day story line and the in-the-past retelling.
  • Perspective and point of view. The animal-world and the human-world coexist in this story, and they overlap in several significant ways. Kids can have great discussion around the different point-of-views in the scene in the Fitzgibbons' kitchen (should Billy be allowed to keep his new pet? for example).

Suggested Chapter Breakdowns

I usually use four to six sections for Book Club discussions with my students. They meet twice a week (often Tuesdays and Thursdays), which gives us two or three weeks to finish any given round. When I first started I had many more Book Club divisions, but I found that kids had a hard time sustaining interest in a book when it became incredibly drawn out.

  1. Pages 3-32, The Sickness of Timothy Frisby through Mr. Fitzgibbon's Plow
  2. Pages 33-67, Five Days through In the Rosebush
  3. Pages 68-111, Brutus through In the Cage
  4. Pages 112-157, The Maze through The Main Hall
  5. Pages 158-194, The Toy Tinker through Seven Dead Rats
  6. Pages 195-233, Escape through the Epilogue
[Please check page numbers against your own editions, as publishers sometimes change the size or shape of the book, which alters the page numbers.]

Who's your favorite character in Mrs. Frisby? (Click here for more Book Club recommendations.)

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