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.
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:
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!
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