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Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux Squeaks Right Into My Heart

For the most part, I ignore stories about animals. I don't mean stories in which a character owns a dog or works in a pet store or takes her children to the zoo. I mean books narrated by animals or books in which animals are the main characters. However, I figured a book that has won a Newbery Award, garnered countless glowing reviews and inspired a movie my kids loved, might just be an enjoyable exception. And guess what? Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux charmed the socks off me. You still won't find me borrowing stacks of animal books from the library, but you will find me reading more of DiCamillo's books (even if they do involve animals).

The Tale of Despereaux reads like a fairy tale (although a bit of a dark one). It's the story of a mouse named Despereaux Tilling, who is unlike any other mouse in the castle. For one thing, he's tiny. Well, except for his ears - they're huge. For another, he entered the world with his eyes open, a thing unheard of in the mouse world. As if those things aren't enough to brand him an outsider, Despereaux just can't seem to do the things mice do. Instead of just hearing the sound of crumbs dropping, the little mouse can smell them, too. Instead of nibbling the glue from books in the castle library, Despereaux actually reads them. His worst offense, however, is the one that dooms him to the dungeon - he speaks to a human.

Poor Despereaux really can't help himself. The human in question is the lovely Princess Pea, who looks at him adoringly and even compliments his large ears. He's smitten. How can he not speak to his beloved as the knights in the fairy tales do? Since he refuses to renounce his actions, Despereaux is soon carted off to the stinking depths of the castle. A red thread is looped around his neck, marking him for death at the hands (well, teeth) of the bloodthirsty castle rats. The mouse soon learns just how vicious the rats can be - not only do they plan to kill him, but they are also plotting against the Princess. Like the heroes in his storybooks, Despereaux swallows his fear and vows to save the girl he loves. There's only one problem (well, okay about 4) - (1) He's stuck in a dungeon; (2) The rats want revenge - they aren't about to let a mouse get in their way; (3) Despereaux has to get through the kitchen to warn the king about the rats' plan; and (4) Making it through the kitchen involves dodging the mouse-hating cook and her knife-wielding serving girl. Clearly, he will need all of his courage and cunning to save the Princess he loves.

The Tale of Despereaux offers enough heart-pounding action to keep young readers engaged, but also offers valuable lessons about love, bravery and fighting against all odds for that in which you believe. It also delights with rich, but subtle language that will make you smile. Anyone who has ever felt like an outcast (and who hasn't?) will enjoy cheering this loveable mouse on his gallant quest. I'm probably the last person on Earth to read this book, but just in case I'm not, let me suggest you head to the nearest library and pick up this utterly charming tale. Right. Now.

Grade: A


  1. So glad you liked this! I read it last summer and was completely enchanted. We haven't seen the movie yet, and I'm sure it won't do the book justice. How can it? This book is MAGIC. :)

  2. I do not normally read children's stories, but this one does appeal to me. I saw an interview with the author and it especially piqued my interest. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it, Susan.

  3. I am giving a copy of this book away courtesy of Candlewick on my blog Brimful Curiosities (ends 1/7/09). I loved the book as well.

  4. I'm going to have to get a hold of a copy of this for my ds. I'm another one who really, really dislikes stories about or narrated by animals (and I LOVE animals, absolutely LOVE them! What the heck? LOL), but this really sounds like one he and I can snuggle up and read together. :)

  5. I really want to see this movie, so I will probably wach the movie before reading the book, that way I will enjoy the movie more.

    Tony Peters
    Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

  6. I have been wanting to read this book for a while so now I am convinced I must read it :)

  7. I just saw the preview for the movie of this yesterday and walked out thinking I really HAVE to read this book.

    Thanks for the review.

  8. I'm also not normally an "animal" reader, but I read this last year after seeing a movie trailer, and absolutely loved it.

  9. I loved this one too. There is just something so good about Despereaux!

    Did you see the movie? Or just your kids?

  10. I LOVE this second son has read it about 80 times give or take. My favorite theme of this book is the message about forgiveness. I think it's so wise that Desperaux understands that forgiving his family is the best thing he can do for himself.

  11. I want to read this with my daughter when she's a little older. I'm glad you liked it so much.

  12. Obviously, this is a much-loved book! How can anyone not like it?

    To answer KT's question, no, I haven't seen the movie. My two older kids (ages 10 and 6) went to see it with Grandma and Grandpa. I don't generally like film adaptations of books, but I'm interested in seeing this one. Like I said, my kids loved both the book and the film.

  13. This book was adorable. I recommended it to my MIL and she loved it too. I just saw the movie last week and it was cute but they threw in a whole new character that was not in the book.

    By the way, I've been really, really bad about commenting lately but I wanted to tell you how thrilled I am with the new addition to your family. He's adorable!

  14. Ive just bought this and am now looking forward to it even more. This is a lovely review.


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