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Book Review

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

After Mr. Pott loses one of his legs working for the railroad, he buys a few model trains and sets them up in his backyard. While on a walk, he sees a young girl fashioning a village out of shoeboxes. Mr. Pott is inspired to build a miniature train station out of brick and slate.

Mr. Pott enjoys the work and begins building an entire village based on Fordham, the village where he lives. Visitors begin coming to see his project, and though Mr. Pott would rather be left alone, he treats the tourists kindly and allows them to view the village on weekends. During the week, he works on it uninterrupted. He befriends a children’s author named Miss Menzies, and she begins to help him.

An undertaker named Mr. Platter and his wife live in a town near Fordham. They begin hosting teas along the river near their home. As time goes on, they notice a decline in the attendance of their teas. They discover that people are going to view Mr. Pott’s model village and having tea at the inn in Fordham instead of coming to their riverside stand.

Mr. Platter decides to install his own model railway and village. He buys everything ready-made, but what his village lacks in quality, it makes up for in grandeur and scale. However, every time Mr. Pott finishes a new building for his village, fewer tourists come to see Mr. Platter’s village, called Ballyhoggin. Mr. Platter begins taking his boat down the river to spy on Mr. Pott so he can keep pace with Mr. Pott’s building installations.

Meanwhile, Pod and Homily Clock, along with their 16-year-old daughter, Arrietty, are once again searching for a new home. The Clocks are Borrowers: tiny people who live secretly in human houses and “borrow” food and other items they need. Spiller, a friend of the Clocks, hears about Mr. Pott’s model village, Little Fordham, and ferries the family down the river so they can see it.

The Clocks are delighted with the rows of miniature cottages and begin furnishing one to use as their home. Between borrowings from Mr. Pott’s house, clothes from the village’s plaster figures, gifts from Spiller and items left behind by visitors, the Clocks have everything they need. One day, however, Miss Menzies sees the Borrowers and begins to watch them carefully. She never lets them know they have been seen, but grows fond of the Clocks and purposefully leaves behind items they might find useful.

Arrietty eventually notices Miss Menzies and goes to speak with her. The two become friends. Arrietty teaches Miss Menzies about Borrowers, and Miss Menzies tells Arrietty stories from her childhood. Miss Menzies also tells Mr. Pott about the Borrowers, but since he only half-listens to her, it takes him a significant length of time to discover the truth. Miss Menzies and Mr. Pott are careful not to disturb the Clocks, and Arrietty is the only one who knows they have been discovered.

The Clocks remain out-of-sight of the visitors but are unaware that Mr. Platter comes down the river and spies from the bushes. Mr. Platter sees them and despairs because he knows nothing in his village can compete with the live inhabitants. Mr. Platter tells his wife that they are ruined, but she suggests they steal the Borrowers and place them in Ballyhoggin. They decide to travel to Little Fordham at night. Mr. Platter will make a sound at the front of the Clocks’ cottage, and Mrs. Platter will be at the back door with a net when the family tries to escape.

A few days later, Miss Menzies becomes worried. Arrietty has not been to speak with her, and the little cottage’s door has been left open for several days. Mr. Pott and Miss Menzies decide to remove the cottage’s roof to check on the little family. They find the beds unmade and all of the Borrowers’ clothing, with the exception of their nightclothes, still there. Miss Menzies and Mr. Pott don’t know if the Borrowers will return, but in an effort to alleviate their worry, they decide to fix up the little house, putting in a stove and running water and furnishing the rooms.

Meanwhile, the Clocks find themselves in a cardboard box in the Platters’ attic. The Platters bring them food several times a day but generally leave the Clocks alone. Pod establishes some ground rules for the family. He says they must never let the Platters know they can speak and understand speech. He also instructs Homily and Arrietty to always be in the box when the Platters come into the attic, so that they don’t know Borrowers can climb.

In their free time between meals, the Clocks carefully explore the attic, searching for any tools they can use, as well as a potential escape route. Their initial plan is to get inside the walls and climb down to the first floor, thinking that they can escape that way. The walls prove innavigable, however. The Clocks are able to open the attic window, but there is no way down from the roof. They begin to lose hope.

The Platters, thinking that the Clocks cannot understand them, discuss their plans for the village and the Borrowers during the Clocks’ meal times. The Platters are constructing a house that will function as a cage for the Borrowers. One side will be entirely glass, so that visitors can see in, and the furniture will be arranged so that there is nothing to hide behind. The Clocks cannot bear the thought of constantly being seen by humans.

One day, Arrietty suggests that the Clocks fashion a hot air balloon from the items they have found in the attic and fly out the window. Pod and Homily are skeptical, but Arrietty shows them an article in one of the old newspapers left in the attic that explains how hot air balloons function and even includes diagrams. The Clocks begin to build their balloon, and when the weather is right, they fly out of the window. After an initial struggle to attain the proper altitude, the Clocks are able to direct their balloon toward Little Fordham.

They make it back home and find Spiller there. They are all happy to see each other, and the Clocks are delighted with the improvements the humans have made to their cottage. Arrietty explains her friendship with Miss Menzies, and Pod becomes upset. Pod goes for a walk, and when he returns, he explains that there is always risk involved when Borrowers interact with humans, even well-meaning ones.

Pod is also concerned that the Platters will search for them at the cottage, so he says they must move again. He tells Arrietty that if she had been honest about Miss Menzies initially, they would have moved and would not have been captured by the Platters. Spiller offers to take them to a nearby mill, where he thinks they would be comfortable. Arrietty promises not to speak to humans anymore, and the Clocks plan to take a few days to pack and rest before leaving Little Fordham.

Christian Beliefs

Mr. Pott has a well-worn copy of the Bible and includes a replica of the local church in his model village.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Mr. Pott is kind and gentle. He keeps to himself but welcomes visitors. He is fond of Miss Menzies and appreciates her help, even if he doesn’t listen to most of what she says. Mr. Pott is angry at first when he discovers that the Borrowers are stealing from him, but he grows fond of them and fixes up their house when they go missing. He hopes they will return.

Mr. Platter is a wealthy undertaker. He builds villas to rent to retired couples because he hopes that they will die soon and that he will be hired to plan their funerals. Rather than building a model village for pleasure, he builds it purely to generate income.

Mr. Platter spies on Mr. Pott in an effort to keep pace with the construction of Little Fordham. When Mr. Platter and his wife discover the Borrowers, they are determined to steal them. The Platters keep the Clocks in the attic and plan to put them in a cage for everyone to view. Mr. Platter is determined not to give them any place to hide in the cage because he doesn’t want anyone to ask for their money back.

Pod is sensible and cares deeply for his family. He remains level-headed when they are captured and begins planning their escape. When escape seems impossible, he becomes depressed. He is skeptical about Arrietty’s suggestion to build a balloon, but hears her out and works hard to make their plan a reality. Pod also isn’t afraid to rely on his family for help, while still asserting his position as the head of the family. Pod also insists that they move when he finds out that Arrietty has spoken with Miss Menzies.

Homily initially doesn’t cope well with their capture. She won’t move or speak, but when she sees how scared Arrietty is, Homily holds and comforts her. She supports Pod unconditionally and offers clever solutions to the problems facing her family. She doesn’t like the idea of riding in a balloon but does so without much protest.


None of these scenes are graphically depicted: Mr. Pott loses his leg in a railway accident while saving a badger from an oncoming train. The badger bites him, causing him to lose his balance, and the train wheels catch his foot. He never sees the bite mark because his leg is cut off. Arrietty ponders whether Spiller could ride on a rat. She concludes he could fight one with a hatpin, but not ride it. The Clocks worry about being hunted by an owl and a fox that live near their cottage.

Pod thinks that if the Clocks are put in Ballyhoggin, they will waste away and that people will watch them even on their deathbeds. Pod becomes depressed and thinks they would all be better off dead. Pod remembers that many people meet with accidents from meddling with gas. While the Clocks plan their escape, Homily makes a comment implying that they might not make it out alive.

On their first attempt to fly the balloon around the attic, Homily steps out of the basket prematurely. Pod and Arrietty shoot rapidly upward, hit the ceiling and are almost thrown out of the basket. Pod explains that if the balloon gains too much altitude, it will burst, and the Borrowers will crash violently to the ground.

Arrietty asks if there is anything that hunts human beings. Pod doesn’t think so, but thinks it would be good if they knew what being hunted felt like. He mentions that humans sometimes hunt each other. When the Clocks attempt to land the balloon after their escape, the balloon hits a stream. The Clocks jettison their food, shoot violently upward and snap to a halt as the balloon catches on a fence. They are almost thrown out, and Pod has to rapidly secure the balloon so it doesn’t gain too much altitude and pop.



Discussion Topics

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

Additional Comments/Notes

Stealing: The Borrowers steal small items from Mr. Pott and Miss Menzies. Mr. and Mrs. Platter discuss that stealing the Borrowers would be a felony but do it anyway.

Lying: Arrietty keeps her friendship with Miss Menzies secret from her parents. Mr. and Mrs. Platter lie to each other rather than acknowledging their mistakes.

Alcohol: A family of Borrowers is said to drink whisky and become extremely drunk.

Fantasy: Miss Menzies believes in fairies and at first thinks the Borrowers are fairies. She comments that she doesn’t think fairies pant and that she is unsure whether they are flesh and blood. She also states that fairies always know, like animals or children. She claims to have seen a fairy once.

Disrespect: Mr. Pott only listens to Miss Menzies on occasion, but when she begins to talk about the Clocks, he initially thinks she is gossiping and rebukes her harshly. Arrietty mutters a disrespectful comment when Pod tells her to hide so the humans won’t see her. Homily grumbles that Spiller is not [their] kind. Homily begins to gossip about a family the Clocks used to know. She also states that there’s no such thing as a Borrower with fat legs except maybe Arrietty’s aunt Lupy. Homily snidely comments that she pities the woman who will have to keep house for Spiller. Homily and Arrietty snap at each other while rearranging the furniture in the cottage. When Pod disapproves of Arrietty’s interaction with Miss Menzies, Arrietty is indignant and says she doesn’t know what any of them want from her.

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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



J.M. Dent and Sons (1961); this version of the books was published in 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


On Video

Year Published





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