Once upon a time, I earned a Master's Degree in Literature and was a Professor of Literature and Composition. I had a wonderful time writing my Master's Thesis about Children's and Young Adult Literature, and I considered earning a Ph.D. so that I could continue to pursue the written word, including British, American, Latin American and other Global Literatures, Children's and Young Adult Literature, all types of genres and occasionally even poetry. But life takes you in unexpected directions, and so now I am working for a non-profit agency (you can read about that on my other blog, A Little Bit of Wonder). Although my job keeps me too busy to post as many book reviews as I would like, Recommended Reading is a place where I can continue to share my literary discoveries and knowledge as time allows.

Please note that I post reviews for books that I recommend reading, just like the blog title says. This means that I typically won't post a review for a book that I completely dislike. This isn't because I shy away from making negative comments, but rather because I don't want to waste your time or mine (I won't even bother to finish a book if it's not any good). For more on this, see the explanation of my Rating System.)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: The Borrowers

I have always been fascinated by dollhouses, especially when I was a child but even now as an adult. They are each like perfect little individual worlds, with their Victorian settees and tea sets, little lamps that light up and tiny embroidered pillows. Everything seems so much more charming when it is in miniature, and with a dollhouse, you are able to explore the world of another family – in a way that you are unable to do when you visit someone else’s home. Similarly, I’ve always said that I enjoy reading because books allow me to explore so many other worlds – each novel is like a world onto itself, and to me, a well-written novel is a well-imagined world that details both people and places without growing tedious in its efforts to describe.

The Borrowers by Mary Beth Norton appeals to my fascination with exploring miniature worlds, tiny secret places within our own large and sometimes frightening world. This classic of children’s fantasy literature is about a miniature race of people called Borrowers who live under the floorboards and between the walls of our houses, constructing their homes out of items that they “borrow” from the human residents. With furniture constructed out of chess pieces and match boxes, or borrowed from a forgotten dollhouse, and postage stamps to decorate their walls, their world will be a fascinating place for those who share my interest in secret places and tiny, cozy homes. Foraging for food from the leftovers on the tea trays and from the pantry upstairs, the Borrowers survive quite nicely without attracting the attention of many residents. If a Borrower is “seen” by a human, however, then they are in great danger.

Norton’s novel is the story of a lonely little boy who discovers and befriends a family of Borrowers, becoming familiar with their miniature world in such a way that no other human has before. He begins to “borrow” items for his new friends and spend happy afternoons reading with them. But although the boy’s friendship is genuine, his relationship with the Borrowers ultimately puts them in danger when the adults begin to notice that so many things have gone missing from around the house.

The Borrowers seems to me to be about the desire to discover other worlds and the particular desire of lonely children to become a part of those other worlds. So many children’s fantasy novels are about the discovery of a secret place, a more fantastic world that allows the characters and the reader to escape the drudgery and the loneliness of the everyday world in which we live. Norton’s novel does this especially well, describing the Borrowers’ home and tactics for moving through the house – climbing up curtains and tunneling under the floorboards – in clever detail. I felt as though I was exploring a fancy dollhouse, an entire world that posed its own set of problems and dangers. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys discovering and exploring secret places and other worlds, whether they are through a wardrobe door or just underneath the kitchen floorboards.

1 comment:

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