The stars of the book are the fantastic rats, who help save the widowed Mrs. Frisby and her children. Of course they aren't ordinary rats; they are escapees from a lab at the National Institute of Mental Health. Experimental treatments to boost their intelligence and life span were more successful than the scientists had planned. By the time the rats are clever enough to plan an escape, they are smart enough to realize they can't go back to their pre-laboratory lives.
We're something Dr. Schultz has made. Something new. Dr. Schultz says our intelligence has increased more than one thousand per cent. I suspect he's underestimated; I think we're probably as intelligent as he is - maybe more. We can read, and with a little practice, we'll be able to write, too. I mean to do both. I think we can learn to do anything we want. But where do we do it? Where does a group of civilized rats fit in?"After their escape, the NIMH rats take up residence on the Fitzgibbon farm, stealing the farmer's electricity and supplies to build a home for themselves. Their ability to read and use technology is essential for the rescue of Mrs. Frisby's house from the farmer's plow.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a great example of a book that can be used to teach biology to kids. The San Diego County Office of Education has an activity guide that uses the book as the starting point for lessons on natural habitats, owls, rodents, and the use of animals in medical research.
There is something for grown-ups to think about too. If we are going to "uplift" animals by boosting their intelligence and self-awareness would they have a place in our society? or would they form a not-quite-human class like Cordwainer Smith's underpeople? Something to consider before we travel too far down that path.
Tags:Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH fiction, biology. Image of lab rat from the National Cancer Institute.