Secret World of ArriettyIf you’re a fan of Mary Norton’s classic Borrower stories and have been worried about the adaptation to film coming soon to the US from Studio Ghibli, fret no more. This picture book, featured a plethora of art from the film and a simplified screenplay, will reassure fans of Miyazaki and Norton that both have been well-represented.

In the film adaptation, which adds several plot elements and characters from later books to the main story, Shawn is a lonely little boy who’s been sent to the country to await heart surgery. He is living with his gentle and kindly aunt, Jessica, and her perennially curious and nosy housekeeper, Hara. The house is also inhabited by borrowers, tiny people who live through the items they “borrow” from the “beans.” Arrietty is an exuberant and cheerful girl who longs to explore the wider world outside their cramped home. Homily, her mother, is a worrier while Pod, her father, is the silent type, focused on keeping his family safe. On her first expedition, Arrietty is seen by Shawn. Though he means well, things go from bad to worse and eventually the borrowers are discovered and must flee. They later meet Spiller, a solitary, almost feral, borrower.

This book of the film shows a remarkably faithful adaptation, keeping the characters and charm of the story, especially Arrietty’s longing to explore the world and her family’s fears of being the last borrowers. The film adds more layers to the character of Shawn, giving him a stronger personality and showing the friendship that develops between him and Arrietty and how it changes his feelings about his operation and his life.

Some of the most popular Miyazaki films — My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Castle in the Sky — depend strongly on the powerful sense of place. Although this book is illustrated with stills, interspersed with some speech bubbles and descriptive text, the setting comes through strongly. Intricate details of the house and grounds make the reader almost feel they’ve seen the film, and the animators did an excellent job of portraying one of the most popular aspects of the borrower stories, the repurposing of borrowed objects like Arrietty’s clothespin hair clip. Of course, there’s a cat in the story too!

This book would be best for libraries with in-between Studio Ghibli fans. By which I mean, if you have parents and children who love Miyazaki’s films but are unlikely to know that a new one is coming out, this book will be a welcome surprise and whet their appetites. Of course, you’ll probably also need to purchase a new set of Mary Norton’s Borrowers series!

The Secret World of Arrietty: Picture Book
by Studio Ghibli
ISBN: 9781421541150
VIZ Media, 2012

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library


    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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