Book Discussion Series: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

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***JUST SO YOU KNOW*** All of the posts in our book discussion series contain questions and reviews that could possibly reveal parts of the plot you may rather discover by reading the book.  Proceed with caution!***

The Book Discussion Series enhances the reading experience by providing a list of interpretive questions compiled by librarians of the Cleveland Heights University Heights Public Library.

Brief synopsis:  When mouse widow Mrs. Frisby needs advice on how to move her children safely, she consults the rats who live under the rosebush. Not only do they help her, they tell her of their escape from a laboratory where experimentation had made them literate, and of the brave death of her husband.

The popular children’s literature blog A Fuse #8 Production ran a poll of best children’s novels and the review in that poll, where the book ranked 32nd best ever children’s novel, not only tells what it’s about but also the background of the book and author.  This book is so rich in content and presentation; I remember wanting to discuss the way Mr. O’Brien draws the picture of mouse society when another person in the discussion brought up that her dislike of the book wasn’t most people’s; she liked the story and had no problem with animal testing.  This threw me because I had not even thought about why the book might be about that, it’s just sort of taken as given background that these mice are gifted. This is just one example of how discussing this book in a book club or class will be rewarding.

Discussion Questions

  • How would you describe this book?  Why?  What genre would you say it is?
  • Why does Mrs. Frisby decide to help Jeremy even though it means that she is risking her safety and that of her children?  How does it end up being good that she does?
  • Describe some of the other situations in the book where characters help one another.  Wha are the outcomes of those situations?  Do preconceptions change as a result of characters helping one another?  How would the situations have been different if the characters had decided not to help?
  • Who would you say is the most important character in this book?  Why?
  • Who would you say is the bravest character in this book?  Why?  Similarly, how would you define bravery?
  • How would the story be different if the rats and mice had never been involved in the experiments at NIMH?
  • Do you think the experiments at NIMH were valuable?  Why or why not?  What did the scientists hope to gain by running the experiments?  Would you say that the experiments were a success?  Was it right for the scientists to perform such experiments?  Why or why not? How would you describe the scientists?  What is your opinion on animal research?
  • After the mice and rats escaped, do you think the scientists continued the research with another group of animals?  Why or why not?  If they did, how might they have changed the experiments based on what they learned from the animals that escaped?
  • When the scientists come to the Fitzgibbons’ farm, why do they try to kill the rats?  Could they have rectified the situation differently?
  • Before you meet the rats, what is your opinion of them?  What do the other animals think of them?  In general (outside of the book), how are rats thought of?  Why do you think the author chose rats as the heroes in this book?  How are the rats in this story different than rats you encounter in other stories?
  • Why do animals consult the owl for advice when they have a problem?  Does the owl give Mrs. Frisby good advice?  Why isn’t she satisfied with his answer?  How does the owl change toward Mrs. Frisby when he finds out who her husband was?
  • Why is the owl unwilling to move from his tree?  Why does he acknowledge the fact that it will fall and declare that he will fall with it?  What does this tell you about his character?  (Compare this to Mrs. Frisby’s attitude about the destruction of her home and the rats’ attitude about the destruction of their home).
  • Why do the animals think so highly of Mr. Frisby?  What did you think before you found out what he did for the rats?
  • Why do you think Mr. Frisby never told his wife about NIMH? Why did Mr. Ages never tell her about it after Mr. Frisby died?  Why didn’t Mr. Ages tell Mrs. Frisby how her husband died?  If you were Mrs. Frisby, would you rather have known or not known?
  • Why does Mrs. Frisby decide to tell her children about NIMH?  Do you think it’s important that they know?
  • The rats talk about how the NIMH experiments changed them so that other rats were wary of them and would not accept them.  Do you think that this was also true for the mice?  Mrs. Frisby doesn’t seem to have noticed anything different or strange about her husband or Mr. Ages.  She also accepts his teaching her how to read and explaining things such as electricity without question.  Why do you think this is?
  • How would the story have been different had the rats never found the toy tinker?  Do you think it was good that they found him or do you think it was bad that they found him?  Why? Do you think they would have come to the same conclusions about their lives if they had never found him?
  • What did you expect to find inside the rose bush?  How did your expectations compare to what was really there?
  • Why did the rats come up with their Plan?  Do you think it will succeed?  Why do Jenner and some of his friends disagree with the Plan?  Do they have valid concerns?  Which side of the argument would you be on if you lived with the rats?
  • Who is Isabella? Why do you think the author included her in the story?  Would the story have been different without her?
  • Why does Billy capture Mrs. Frisby and put her in the birdcage?  Why does it end up being a good thing that he does?  What do you think would have happened had Mrs. Frisby had never overheard the story about the rats in the hardware store?
  • Several characters question the newspaper headline Mechanized Rats Invade Hardware Store.  Why is that?  Why do you think that the reporter wrote such a headline?  Why do you think that the author leaves that mystery unsolved?
  • You never find out for sure if the men who come to the farm are really the NIMH scientists.  Do you think that they probably were?  What other possible explanation(s) could there be?
  • Do you think that the rat who went back to save the one last rat was Justin?  Why or why not? Does the author want us to think that it is?  Why do you think the author does not tell us for sure?
  • Do you think Mrs. Frisby’s children will be successful in finding the rats in Thorn Valley?  Do you think Mrs. Frisby wants to find them?  Why or why not?  Why does the author end the story where he does?  How else could he have ended it?  Do the mice have to go to Thorn valley themselves in order to find out how the rats are doing?
  • Has anyone read the other NIMH books? They were written by the author’s daughter and at least the first one followed notes that her father had written.  How do the daughter’s books compare to the father’s?  If you haven’t read the other books, would you be curious to read them?
  • This book received the Newbery medal.  Why do you think it was chosen as the winner?
  • Has anyone seen the movie? Did you like the movie?  How did it compare to the book?
  • What do you think of the cover?  Does it make you want to read the book?  Why do you think Mrs. Frisby pictured wearing a dress and hat?
  • What did you think of the title?  What did you think the book would be about before you started reading it?  Why did the author give the book this name?

5 comments on “Book Discussion Series: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

  1. what are the 3 important things that happened in this boook!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!????????ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  2. Thank you for so many questions at different levels of comprehension. These sure will help my whole group discussions.

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