Backlist Spotlight: The Borrowers

How did middle grade books save one person’s life? Jeanne Birdsall writes in The Horn Book:

borrowerscoverIt was noticed — my imagination — and praised until I was nine or so, when my mother started rebuking me for having too much of it. Perhaps I’d provoked her, paradoxically, by wandering in my chatter too close to truths that needed to stay secret. Whatever her reason, this was a blow to me — an attack on my best protection, and my joy.

I could have given up right then and withered away, and might have if it hadn’t been for books. Whatever else my family’s faults, they read. My mother took me each week to the library, where I was encouraged to wander freely through the children’s room, choosing whatever pleased me. On one wall were picture books for little kids; on the other walls, the books with chapters — “real” books, to my mind, or what we now call middle grade books. I flew through those middle grade books, six or more a week, finding solace and hope.

Consider one of my favorite series, Mary Norton’s Borrower books, about people so tiny they could live under the floor, surviving on the gleanings of humans. Stacked matchboxes became a chest of drawers, a hatpin a weapon against threatening bugs, a potato enough food for weeks. What vast imaginations the Borrowers needed, to see a cutlery box as a possible boat, or a boot as a home. And even better — I understood this early on — what a vast imagination Mary Norton had needed to create the Borrowers.

Meet the Borrowers

The Borrowers—the Clock family: Homily, Pod, and their fourteen-year-old daughter, Arrietty, to be precise—are tiny people who live underneath the kitchen floor of an old English country manor. All their minuscule home furnishings, from postage stamp paintings to champagne cork chairs, are “borrowed” from the “human beans” who tromp around loudly above them. All is well until Pod is spotted upstairs by a human boy! Can the Clocks stay nested safely in their beloved hidden home, or will they be forced to flee?

The British author Mary Norton won the Carnegie Medal for The Borrowers in 1952, the year it was first published in England. The Borrowers is also a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award Book.

The paperback edition still has the delightful original black-and-white illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush inside. Absolutely charming!

Did you know?

the-secret-world-of-arriety Did you know that The Borrowers is the basis for the Studio Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty? Read the book, watch the movie, and enjoy your stay in the world of the Borrowers.

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Want more middle grade books like The Borrowers? Visit Middle Great Mania and check out many more great middle grade titles!