What if a whole world of miniature people lived right under our noses? Don’t children of every generation allow their imaginations to dive into the idea? From Gulliver’s Travels with the Lilliputians to The Indian in the Cupboard, stories have been written for centuries to indulge this favorite fantasy.
My first place pick for the very specific genre of Dollhouse-sized Speculative Fiction?
The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The first of five in a series, I love Norton’s narrative of life under the clock in early twentieth century England. The other books in the series are just as good, but her word pictures that introduce readers to the world of “borrowing” leave me as intrigued today as they did when I was ten.
The Clock family: mother Homily, father Pod, and daughter Arietty are the main characters who live between the floors of a large country house. Pod regularly ventures into the human beans’ living area for groceries from the pantry and various household items as needed from other rooms. By necessity, they live a quiet life. However, Arietty longs for freedom. She has never left her home, never explored the house, never stepped outside. I hope you can see where the story might go from there.
Knowing human nature, a Borrower can never let himself be seen, must never talk to a bean. The results would be disastrous. At a minimum, he would be asked to vacate the premises, at worst, the humans would obtain a cat to get rid of the vermin of Borrowers. Oh, but I take that back. The Clocks face something worse than a cat.
The story makes for a great read-aloud. Norton builds tension with each chapter, and every time an object is described, we automatically compare our use of the object to why a Borrower needs it. I am 99% sure that Mary Norton spent her entire childhood making up the possibilities and finally wrote it down for us to enjoy. All those details make for great discussions as we read the book as a family.
Wait a minute, you say. Aren’t the Borrowers really stealing? Do I want my child to admire them? One more topic for discussion. Let your kids muddle through the trickier aspects of morality and guide them through that maze.
There really could be Borrowers. Norton provides the perfect explanation as to why things disappear in our homes. Is an old sock missing its mate when you remove laundry from the dryer? A Borrower got to it first. Did you leave a safety pin on your dresser, and now it’s gone? A Borrower assumed you wouldn’t notice its disappearance. I’m convinced that several of my earrings, only one of each pair, mind you, are decorating some Borrower’s home, or maybe they now hang from the ceiling of a Borrower dance hall as a disco ball.
Now, there’s an idea. Teachers and homeschooling parents, I’ve just given you a story starter for a composition: “The Borrowers Took My _____________________.” What fine explanations might your children come up with?