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Book Review

The Borrowers Afloat by Mary Norton has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the third book in the “The Borrowers” series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Pod and Homily Clock, along with their daughter, Arrietty, belong to a race of tiny people called Borrowers. They lived under the kitchen floor in an old country house “borrowing” food to eat and trinkets to furnish their little burrow. When the housekeeper discovers them, however, they flee their home to avoid extermination. After a long search and several misadventures, the Clocks arrive safely at the cottage where their extended family lives.

The Clocks and their relatives — Heandreary, Lupy and Eggletina Clock — are initially overjoyed to see one another. In such a small cottage, there is not enough borrowing to occupy all of the men, so Pod is left feeling rather listless and unnecessary. Homily worries because she has insufficient supplies to furnish a home, and Arrietty misses the freedom of living outside. The Clocks do their best to contribute to the household, helping their relatives with cooking, cleaning and mending, but no one is convinced that this is a sustainable arrangement.

One night, Arrietty is out late, and Homily begins to worry. Arrietty is supposed to be telling a bedtime story to one of her young cousins and should have returned. Homily ventures down to the lower rooms where their relatives live and notices that the ladder leading from the Borrowers’ home has not been pulled up for the night. Walking closer, Homily sees Arrietty climbing it.

Once Homily and Arrietty make it back up to their rooms, Arrietty confesses to Pod and Homily that she has been sneaking down to talk to the human boy, Tom. Tonight Tom told her that he and his grandfather would be moving out of the cottage in three days. This news worries Pod and Homily because Borrowers need humans in order to survive. In an empty house, they are unable to find sufficient food and supplies.

The next morning the two families discuss their options. Uncle Hendreary’s family decides to stay, living on whatever food they currently have saved until a new tenant comes to the cottage. The Clocks, however, decide to move on. They worry that the food stored wouldn’t be able to support both families. Arrietty asks Tom to leave a board loose at the base of the door when he leaves, so the Clocks can escape.

A few days later, after the humans are gone, the Clocks prepare to leave. When they lift up the loose board, however, they see a ferret. The ferret belonged to Tom but was left behind in the move. Pod realizes that the ferret is unlikely to leave anytime soon, and that the animal would have no trouble catching and killing a Borrower. The Clocks fear that they will have to try to wait out the famine with their relatives.

Suddenly they see their old friend Spiller come out of the shadows. He explains that there is a drain in the washhouse, which is how he comes and goes from the cottage. He agrees to help the Clocks escape and even offers to take them to a nearby village where they can find a house.

The Clocks gratefully accept, and Spiller helps them down the drain. The drain comes out near a creek by an old teakettle where Spiller sometimes sleeps. He tells the Clocks that they can stay in the teakettle for a few days while he travels upstream. He wants to fill his boat with supplies to trade to other Borrowers in the village.

The Clocks live there quite comfortably for a couple of days, but one night while they are sleeping, there is a terrible thunderstorm. The creek floods and the teakettle, Borrowers and all, are washed downstream. The Clocks wake to find themselves afloat on the creek and decide there’s nothing they can do other than wait for the kettle to wash ashore. Later that day, they become lodged on an island of intertwined sticks in the middle of the stream. They hold on to the hope that Spiller will soon sail by and rescue them.

While they are waiting, Pod notices a fisherman hiding in the weeds. The fisherman casts his line, which catches in Homily’s skirt. After a brief struggle, Pod and Arrietty are able to rescue Homily by removing her skirt. At this point, however, Pod recognizes the fisherman as Mild Eye, a gypsy who has attempted to capture them before.

Mild Eye has also recognized the Clocks and is determined not to let them escape this time. Mild Eye tries to wade to the center of the stream to grab them, but the water is too deep and he cannot swim. Mild Eye attaches a rope to a nearby tree, so that he can steady himself as he once again attempts to reach the Clocks.

Just as he is about to grab the Clocks, Mild Eye falls, pushing the island of sticks to the other shore. Spiller greets the Clocks, who explains that he cut Mild Eye’s rope, causing him to fall. Spiller had hidden his boat in the shadows, planning to pick up the Clocks under the cover of darkness.

Spiller often travels up and down the river, and if humans see him, they might try to capture him when he comes through again. When he saw how close Mild Eye was getting to the Clocks, however, he intervened despite the risk of being seen. The Clocks board Spiller’s boat, and they all continue their journey downstream.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

When the Clocks leave the cottage, Hendreary wishes them good luck and good borrowing.

Authority Roles

Lupy and Hendreary are pleased when the Clocks arrive and willingly share their food and home. Lupy, however, appears a bit selfish. She offers to lend the Clocks furniture, but despite having plenty of her own, gives them only one bed and corks to use for stools.

When the Borrowers learn that Tom and his grandfather are moving out, Hendreary offers to share the remaining food with the Clocks. Lupy, however, tells Homily that everyone must look out for himself or herself. She hides the extra food as if afraid that the Clocks will steal it, giving them only a few dried peas for their journey. When Lupy is in a bad mood, she blames the Clocks for everything that goes wrong.

Pod does his best to protect and provide for his family. He recognizes that Homily, Arrietty and he must leave the cottage, and though he is aware of the dangers of venturing outside in early spring, both from animals and the weather, he is not deterred. Nevertheless he isn’t reckless and refuses to take Homily and Arrietty outside when he sees the ferret waiting. When Spiller offers to help the Clocks escape, Pod offers suggestions but defers to Spiller’s leadership. Pod does his best to encourage Homily and urges her to be brave and remain optimistic.

Homily often worries and is easily frightened, but she lovingly cares for her family. She is skeptical about riding on Spiller’s boat but eventually comes around. When Arrietty falls asleep while riding a soapbox lid down the drain, Homily carefully wraps a coat around her. Homily admits that she’s never been one for living outside but bravely says she feels all right with it.

When the Clocks are stuck in the middle of the stream, she remains positive. One night, Pod says he will stay up to keep watch, but Homily protests that he needs sleep too, offering to take turns with him. She thanks Pod for being so good to her.


Homily calls Arrietty a wicked, thoughtless girl. Pod says dang. The Clocks are often said to snap at one another. Pod scolds Homily and Arrietty for not thinking like Borrowers. He calls them human-like, which Homily takes as an insult.

When Hendreary is trying to decide whether to move his family away from the cottage, he runs through a list of all the animals that could eat a Borrower, worrying that the animals will multiply rapidly without the humans around to hunt them. After Pod sees the ferret, he comments that the creature is probably very hungry and would have no difficulty catching a Borrower. Homily worries that a cow will tread on and kill them. Mild Eye’s fishing hook gets stuck in Homily’s skirt and she is roughly dragged into the water. She is not hurt, however.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lying: Arrietty tells her parents she is going downstairs to tell her cousin a story when she is really sneaking down to talk to Tom. She says she was going to tell her parents everything eventually.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Mary Norton






Record Label



Originally published by J.M. Dent and Sons; the version reviewed was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company in 2003.


On Video

Year Published





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