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Book Review

The Borrowers by Mary Norton has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first 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

The Borrowers are tiny people who hide inside human houses, unbeknownst to the inhabitants. Fourteen-year-old Arrietty Clock and her parents, Pod and Homily, are the last family of Borrowers left in a large country house. The Overmantels, Harpsichords and even Uncle Hendreary have either left or disappeared.

Pod skillfully “borrows” things from their human neighbors, such as food to eat, matchboxes for dressers and trinket boxes for furniture. He is careful to never be seen. The passageway to the Clocks’ home, which is under the kitchen floor, begins at the grandfather clock in the hall. Several gates seal the passage to keep mice out and the adventurous Arrietty in.

One day, Homily asks Pod to borrow a new miniature teacup to replace one that Arrietty broke a few days earlier. Pod travels upstairs, but is late returning, and Homily begins to worry. She frets that the teacup is too high and that Pod would have to climb the curtains to fetch it, which is much more difficult for him than it used to be.

Pod finally returns, looking pale and worried. Pod and Homily send Arrietty to bed, and Pod tells Homily that he has been seen. After fetching the teacup from the cupboard, Pod was unable to climb back down; a boy came out of the night-nursery and helped him.

The last borrower to be seen was Uncle Hendreary. The people who lived in the house at the time got a cat, which made borrowing much more difficult and dangerous. Everything was fine until Hendreary’s young daughter, Eggletina, snuck out of her parents’ home while he was in the house above. Her parents had never told her about the upstairs, people or being seen, and she was determined to explore. She was never seen again, and it was presumed that the cat ate her. After Eggletina disappeared, her father refused to go back upstairs lest he find some sign of her. The family immigrated to a badger hole, which is also called a badger set, a few fields away from the house.

Pod and Homily decide to tell Arrietty about upstairs and Pod’s being seen. Arrietty grows excited about the world beyond the Clocks’ small home and wants to leave. She longs to be outside, play with other Borrowers and see the sky. Homily, however, is unwilling to leave the safety and comfort of her current home.

Recognizing Arrietty’s need for adventure, Homily suggests that Pod teach Arrietty to borrow. A few days later, Pod gathers bristles from the mat by the front door to make a new scrub brush and takes Arrietty with him. Since the weather is nice, the humans in the house leave the front door propped open. Pod allows Arrietty to go outside and explore. While she is playing in the grass, Arrietty notices a large eye watching her.

The eye belongs to the boy who helped Pod with the teacup. After overcoming their initial wariness, Arrietty and the boy begin to talk. The boy tells Arrietty about the human world, and she realizes there are more humans in the world than Borrowers, contrary to what she had always believed. Arrietty worries that Borrowers are dying out and decides to write a letter to Uncle Hendreary in the badger set. The boy agrees to deliver it for her if she will read books to him.

Arrietty states she will leave the letter under the mat in the hall. Pod calls for Arrietty, and they return home for tea. Arrietty doesn’t tell her parents about meeting the boy because she doesn’t want to worry them. Arrietty leaves the letter under the mat but receives no news from the boy for several days and becomes increasingly anxious.

One day, when Pod goes out borrowing, Arrietty tells Homily that she is going to the storeroom but instead sneaks up to the night nursery to see the boy. The boy had delivered the letter, and Uncle Hendreary wrote back asking her to tell Aunt Lupy to come home. Pod overhears Arrietty talking to the boy and takes her back downstairs. Pod and Homily are frightened that the boy will find their house, and now, even if they emigrate, they cannot move in with Hendreary because the boy knows where he lives as well.

That night Pod and Homily are awakened by their roof, a kitchen floorboard, being removed. The boy had found them. Pod and Homily are frightened, but he is simply bringing dollhouse furniture to give to the family. Pod and Homily are soon at ease with the boy, and he begins to bring them gifts almost nightly.

The family is delighted with their new treasures, but eventually the boy brings them gifts from the drawing room cabinet, in addition to the dollhouse furniture. The housekeeper, Mrs. Driver, notices that small items are beginning to go missing and is determined to discover why. She gets up in the middle of the night to investigate. The boy hears her coming and must leave before fully replacing the board above the Borrowers’ home. Mrs. Driver lifts up the board and sees Pod, Homily and Arrietty before they are able to hide.

Mrs. Driver destroys the Clocks’ home and goes to find the gardener. The boy returns while Mrs. Driver is gone and offers to help the Clocks escape. Homily refuses to let the boy carry her, and before the other three can convince her, Mrs. Driver returns. The Clocks scurry back into their hole, and Mrs. Driver locks the boy in his room, intending to keep him there until he leaves the house in a few days.

Mrs. Driver calls the police and the rat catcher. The rat catcher seals all of the burrow’s exits, except the one in the kitchen, which is guarded by terriers. He begins to pump poisonous gas into the Borrowers’ home. As Mrs. Driver tries to deliver the boy to a waiting taxi, he sees what’s happening and escapes from Mrs. Driver. He finds a pickax and busts a hole in the side of the foundation near the Clocks’ home, and they are able to escape.

The boy never sees the Clocks again, but the next year his sister visits Uncle Hendreary’s badger set to see if Pod, Homily and Arrietty arrived. She finds Arrietty’s diary near the badger set, which explains how the Clocks emigrated and now live with Uncle Hendreary and his family.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems

The boy believes Arrietty is a fairy. Arrietty corrects him and tells him about when Homily thought she saw a fairy.

Authority Roles

Mrs. Driver, in addition to being the housekeeper, looks after the boy. She often speaks harshly to him and threatens to take a shoe to him. She steals things from the house and often drinks.

Homily is uneducated, and Arrietty can get out of almost anything by telling her mother that she is writing in her diary because Homily wants Arrietty to be cultured. Homily overreacts about the prospect of emigrating and says she won’t go.

The Clocks are nearly captured because Homily refuses to let the boy carry her. Homily loves her family and does her best to make a nice home for them, but she is presented as a bit hysterical and absurd. She is often described as cross or worried. She does suggest that Pod take Arrietty borrowing, however, to help train Arrietty’s adventurous spirit.

Pod is an excellent borrower, but is presented as exceedingly cautious in comparison to his adventurous daughter. He doesn’t want to take Arrietty borrowing and believes the worst when the boy sees him. Arrietty argues that maybe all humans aren’t bad. Pod loves his family and does his best to provide for them.


The boy cruelly tells Arrietty that he thinks all the other Borrower families are dead and that eventually she’ll be the last one. Pod says he wishes his mother-in-law had been choked to death. Arrietty snaps at her mother to leave her alone. Mrs. Driver calls the Borrowers nasty, crafty, scampy, scurvy and other similar insults. She also knew the policeman as a boy and calls him a nasty, thieving good-for-nothing.

Eggletina is assumed to have been eaten by a cat. Arrietty asks if her parents would emigrate if a cat ate her, and Homily threatens to smack her. When Arrietty first meets the boy, he threatens to hit her with a stick or pick her up and break her in half. Pod says it would only take a couple of terriers or a ferret to kill Hendreary and his family. Pod slaps Homily on the back. The rat catcher attempts to poison the Clocks, and Mrs. Driver talks about laying their dead bodies on a clean newspaper if they are caught.



Discussion Topics

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

Additional Comments/Notes

Stealing: The Borrowers don’t think of themselves as stealing from humans because they believe that human beings exist to provide for Borrowers. Mrs. Driver steals an occasional bottle of alcohol or article of clothing from the house where she works.

Alcohol and tobacco: A Borrower family called the Overmantels were said to drink and smoke heavily. They’d be laid out dead drunk after a party. The bedridden old woman that lives in the house often drinks, and sometimes Pod talks to her when she’s drunk because she doesn’t believe anything she sees. Mrs. Driver often drinks, and everyone assumes she was drunk after she tells them about the Borrowers.

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for The Secret World of Arrietty.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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 14


Mary Norton






Record Label



1952 by J.M. Dent & Sons; 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


On Video

Year Published



Carnegie Medal, 1952


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