The Borrowers, Mary Norton

The Borrowers is a short book about very tiny people, so I’m going to make this a very tiny review.

Pod and Homily Clock, and their adolescent daughter, Arrietty, are the last of the Borrowers living in their Victorian-era mansion. After a series of accidents, other families such as the Harpsichords and Overmantels have been forced to emigrate. Then one day Pod decides to introduce Arrietty to the art of “borrowing”: that is, stealing things from the humans, which they can then use for their own homemaking purposes. (Stamps become posters, buttons are plates, spools are chairs, blotting paper is carpeting…you get the picture.) But then the unthinkable happens when Arrietty is “seen”! That’s right – their very existence is something kept secret from the humans, and now it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen next.

Original illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush.

This classic children’s book won the Carnegie Medal for Literature in 1952. Even as an adult, I really enjoyed it. Had this been read to me as a kid I would surely have been swept up into Arrietty’s world and continued with the series. There’s something magical about the story, though it doesn’t “feel” like fantasy. It actually feels very believable. On a basic level, I think it says some important things about discrimination, fear of the unknown, and family values.

The North American movie poster for the 2010 anime.

The bonus is that there are now several television and movie adaptations of the books, all with something different to offer. The 1992 BBC television series is a rigorously faithful adaptation. The 2011 (also BBC) production takes numerous liberties while keeping the fun spirit of the novel. There’s even a Japanese-animated version! So whatever you or your kid is into, there’s probably something out there to please you. Now hop to it! Start discovering the little people for yourself!

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