Children's/Coming-of-Age, Norton, Mary

Review of The Borrowers by Mary Norton

When I was 6, my first-grade teacher read us The Borrowers. Unfortunately, I was a hyperactive child who simply couldn’t pay attention. I didn’t remember a single thing about the novel. In the past few years, I’ve been reading children’s books that I should have already been familiar with. I am happy to say that at the age of 29, I have finally read The Borrowers.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Borrowers by Mary Norton follows a family of tiny people who live – quasi-parasitically – off of humans (“human beans”). They “borrow” (or rather, steal) everything they need for survival: food scraps, thread for clothing, pins, etc. Our story, which is the first in a series, follows the Clock Borrowers. Homily, Pod, and their daughter Arrietty live under a grandfather clock in the household of Great-Aunt Sophy. Several times a week, Pod sneaks around the house, “borrowing” what his family needs and avoiding Sophy, her cook Mrs. Driver, her gardener Crampfurl, and an unnamed 10-year-old boy. Pod must avoid being seen by any “human bean”, otherwise he and his family will be forced to expatriate.

The frame narrative is of an aunt telling her niece about the stories that her brother used to tell her about the Borrowers. Mrs. May tells young Kate that her brother – the ten-year old boy – lived primarily in India, but after catching an illness, briefly returned to England to recover at his great-aunt’s house. This brother tragically died during World War I. The novel recounts what the boy claimed to have experienced in Great-Aunt Sophy’s home.

This book contains a surprising amount of specialized housekeeping vocabulary that readers of the 1950s may have been familiar with but that children (and adults) today have probably never encountered. Otherwise, the prose is straightforward. The Borrowers reminded me so much of The Indian in the Cupboard and The Castle in the Attic. All three books follow toy-sized protagonists. Although I didn’t feel that any single character stood out, all of them together brought the story to life. I found it to be a page-turner with an important – albeit subtle – moral.

Although I don’t plan to read the rest of the books in the series, I’m glad that I read The Borrowers. It’s interesting to see what children of the early 1950s read.

Favorite Quote

She learned a lot and some of the things she learned were hard to accept. She was made to realize once and for all that this earth on which they lived turning about in space did not revolve, as she had believed, for the sake of little people. “Nor for big people either,” she reminded the boy when she saw his secret smile.

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