Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp (NYRB) & Floating Ice Boat Craft for Kids

A few mice, on a perilous mission, risk their lives to rescue someone in need of help. Sound familiar? Probably, especially if you're a Disney movie fan. In the 1970's Disney produced a film called The Rescuers about two brave mice, Miss Bianca and Bernard, who rescue a little girl named Penny. What you may not realize is that this Disney film like so many of their productions is inspired by a children's book, or in this case, a series of books written by English author Margery Sharp.

The New York Review Children's Collection recently brought the first book in the series back into print, with a beautifully designed edition of The Rescuers. Featuring pen-and-ink illustrations by the talented Garth Williams (illustrator of classics such as the Little House series and Charlotte's Web), this is a book to enjoy and cherish.

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp, illustrated by Garth Williams. New York Review Books Children's Collection (July 2011); ISBN 9781590174609; 160 pages
Book Source: Review copy provided by publisher

The star of Sharp's book is Miss Bianca, a beautiful, high-society mouse accustomed to a privileged life as the beloved pet of the Ambassador's son. She wears a silver chain around her neck and lives in a porcelain pagoda. The Prisoners' Aid Society, a group of mice on a mission to help their human friends, recruit Miss Bianca to help rescue a poet jailed in a grim prison called the Black Castle.

A humble little pantry mouse named Bernard is chosen to convince Miss Bianca to abandon her luxurious life and join in the mission. Because the prisoner is Norwegian, Miss Bianca is called upon to locate the bravest Norwegian mouse during her upcoming travels to Norway with her owner. In Norway she finds a gallant mouse named Nils. The two mice voyage back to the Prisoner's Aid Society, only to be dispatched directly to the grim Black Castle, along with Bernard. The three mice face several dangerous situations, including an encounter with Mamelouk, the head jailer's terrible cat. Even though the mission seems unachievable at times, they use their varied talents to devise an elaborate rescue plan, and, along the way, gain self-confidence and discover the importance of friendship.

Sometimes Sharp's sophisticated, elegant phrasing was a bit above my children's comprehension, but the book was, for the most part, an adventurous read aloud. Due to formal nature of the book, it would probably work best as a read aloud for kids around eight and above and as a middle grade and above read-alone. Williams' fine illustrations appear frequently throughout the novel and help keep younger children interested in the story.

Times were different when the book was originally published in 1959, and as such, Miss Bianca is portrayed as a fragile female in need of protection, prone to fainting spells, especially in the beginning. While she does offer much assistance in achieving the rescue goal, she succeeds mainly due to her charming manner. She doesn't even know what compass points are when asked to draw a map (though she does write very insightful poetry). Disney does treat Miss Bianca a little differently, making her more of an adept adventurer and less of a lady in need. The plot of the Disney movie is almost entirely different than the story found in Sharp's The Rescuers, though the movie does retain some of the characters. I prefer Sharp's more refined, intellectual story line to Disney's humorous, Bayou version. I haven't read Sharp's next Rescuer book, titled Miss Bianca. Apparently the mice do rescue a little girl in that story, like in the Disney's The Rescuers.

I must also remark on the excellent physical quality of this book. I first heard about The New York Review Children's Collection books on Read Aloud Dad. Everything he says is true. The books are worthy of a collector's library and the cloth bindings feel wonderful in your hand. The publisher offers an impressive array of formerly out-of-print classic titles. Make sure to take a look at the children's collection, if you haven't already.

▪ ▪ ▪ Floating Ice Boat Craft for Kids ▪ ▪ ▪

Miss Bianca spends much time traveling via waterways in The Rescuers -- by cargo boat, model speedboat and raft. I thought we'd make some boats as a story connection activity. My kids would love to own their own model speedboat like the one in the book, but we opted for something much cheaper. This summer they have been obsessed with making and playing with ice, so I thought we'd try our hand at creating ice boats. Obviously, an ice boat wouldn't be a good watercraft choice for Miss Bianca as it melts fairly rapidly. But, as a kid's summer activity choice, ice boats make perfect sense.

We froze larger ice blocks in plastic sandwich containers. For the mast, we placed a piece of tape across the container and used it to balance a plastic straw inside the water. Once the boat froze we made sails out of paper and taped them to the mast. Miss Bianca, Nils and Bernard seem right at home on their ice raft.

And one of Miss Bianca's "not quite so poetic, but even more heartfelt" poems from the book:

"Raft-Song, By Miss Bianca"

Day and night, between faraway banks,
Smoothly glided a beautiful raft.
Sun and moon and the stars of the sky
Look in blessing on cargo and craft!

Three brave Rafters with hearts of gold --
Four poor Mariners saved from the foam --
Look down in blessing, sun, moon and stars,
Carry them safely, swiftly home!

Shibley Smiles

Add your kids craft post to the Kid's Get Crafty linky at Red Ted Art's Blog. Join in Read Aloud Thursday at Hope is the Word. Wrote a post about play? Join the It's Playtime party! Find more great book tie-ins at JDaniel4's Mom Read, Explore, Learn link-up. Browse more book posts at Little Sprout Books' Feed Me Books Friday.

I am an Amazon affiliate and may receive a very small commission for products purchased through my Amazon links. (View my full disclosure statement for more information about my reviews.)


maggy, red ted art said...

I LOVE these ice cube boats - we will make some with sticks and leaves and then set them free on the local river! Hooray!

Thanks for sharing on Kids Get Crafty!


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Well, I tried to post a comment already, but it disappeared. Here goes again--

Thanks so much for linking up! We've never read The Rescuers, although we have seen the movie. This sounds like a good potential read-aloud for us, and I am definitely checking out that series!

Amy @ simply necessary said...

Love this! I've seen the movie but never read the book. Now I'm curious! Aren't book reviews great? Do you think when this school journey is done there will be a lot of homeschool mommas as library lady grandmas! LOL

Jen said...

This books look like a wonderful read-aloud for my girls. We are reading a new book that just came out- KenKarta (adventurous, but probably more for older kids as well- 8 and up).
If your kids like animal adventures, I love these two- The Cricket in Times Square and The Rats of Nimh. (good read alouds)

Ticia said...

I love the ice boat. I remember reading that book as a kid and loving it.

JDaniel4's Mom said...

This post counts as an entry in the Summer Reading Challenge.

I loved the Rescuers when I was young. The boat is so cool! (Literally and Figuratively!

Amy said...

that is cool boat.. Thanks for you kind words.. You are right about not getting rest..

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I remember watching Rescuers as a series back home. It was one of the first Disney movies I've ever seen. I haven't read this book, but we really enjoyed Jenny Linsky books from the same series.

Little Wonders' Days said...

I loved this series as a child. This is a cute go along activity. They turned out very cute and I bet they were fun!

Anne said...

I loved the rescuers as a child - didn't know about the books though - excited to look for them! Thanks for linking up at Feed Me Books Friday!

Valarie said...

This is one of my all time favorite books when I was a little girl. Love your ice boat idea. How fun.