Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Review: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
4 stars

Summary: The story is divided into 4 books. The first describes Despereaux's early life. He's not like other mice - his ears are too big, he was born with his eyes open, he can read, and he completely ignores the correct rules of conduct for mice, to his family's dismay. One day while exploring the castle, he hears music and is drawn to young Princess Pea's bedroom, where her father the King is singing to her. He falls instantly and deeply in love with her, his conception of love based on the only story he's read, about a chivalrous knight. This kind of un-mouselike behaviour gets him thrown in the dungeon by the other mice. The second book introduces Chiaroscuro, a rat who instead of loving the darkness of his home in the dungeon, loves the light so much he ends up in the castle in the queen's soup, with disastrous results. The third book describes young Miggery Sow, a dim-witted girl who was sold by her own father but still dreams of being a princess. The fourth book connects the lives of the mouse, the rat, the girl, and the princess with some surprising twists.

What made me pick it up? I confess, I read this one before the Newbery challenge officially started (same with Higher Power of Lucky). It was one of our picks for my library's children's book club. I also loved Because of Winn-Dixie, so I was happy to try this one out.

Overall: It's a lovely little book, with an old-fashioned tone, involving fairly complex themes of light and dark, good vs evil, and the power of love and forgiveness. Small, sweet, dreamy Despereaux is so fragile yet he manages to be so hopeful and brave, despite just about everything being stacked against him. His drama queen French mother, who gave him his unhappy name, provides some comic relief but is also awful. His entire family's treatment of him is so dreadful, it's heart-breaking, even for rodents. I enjoyed the clever intertwining of seemingly unrelated characters, which helps to lead to several happy endings.

My only quibble is the narrator frequently popping up to ask readers if they know what a word means. This device just irks me. It's also found to an irritating degree in the Lemony Snicket books, but that certainly hasn't hampered their success. So maybe it's just me.


John said...

Thank you for this site. As a 9th grade English teacher, I suffer pangs of guilt whenever my students who read for fun want to talk about books that I haven't had time to read. Despereaux was a character many were fond of, and your review helped me understand why and made me want to read the book. I really need to challenge myself to read as much as I used to before adult life slowed me down.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Thanks, John! What a nice compliment! You made my day. :) And what a fab picture of your little ones!

valentina said...

This sounds nice!It's on my Something about me reading list, so it's good to know I might enjoy it.
I don't like the way the author asks about "difficult" words in Lemony Snicket either,but I'm sure I can get over it.

tinylittlelibrarian said...

Valentina - it is a nice little book and happily for the S about M challenge, doesn't take too long to read! :)

I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds that tendency in Lemony Snicket annoying. I thought maybe I was just being grumpy.

Anonymous said...

My daughter has read this book and has absolutely loved it. She is a bit of a book worm so is there any other books that you would recommend for my 11 year old daughter?