Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

How did so many different characters get wrapped up in one book? The Tale of Despereaux is a tale about love (how a mouse loves a princess), a wish (the wish of a young girl brought up in despair), and a desire (of a rat that wishes to be in the light).
The story begins when a mouse is born. His mother and father see him as a mistake to have lived. All of his brothers and sisters from the “liter” had died, and the only mouse to live was named Despereaux. Despereaux was tiny. His little eyes bulged open from the start. His family thought that he wouldn’t live long because of his tininess. “Mon Dieu,” his mother would repeat over and over in disappointment for the loss of her babies and the anticipated loss of her tiny Despereaux. But this didn’t occur. Despereaux lived.
As Despereaux grew older he found out that he could read (unlike his older brothers and sisters and mother and father). In fact, Despereaux had a gentle personality filled with thoughtfulness and adventure.
One day he met lovely princesses. The princess was listening to her father play music and she noticed Despereaux. Despereaux was captivated by the lovely princess and instantly fell in love. It was all of his reading that he believed that she was his true love and that he would honor the princess no matter what….”I honor you!” he would repeat.
Unfortunately, Desperaux had siblings that thought he was nuts. “Cripes,” his brother, Furlough would say as he looked at his longer brother Despereaux in disbelief each time he spoke of love and desire. In fact, it was Furlough who ended up taking Despereaux to the Mouse Council. Despereaux was sentenced to the dungeon due to his “odd” behavior of loving the princess, reading, and not nibbling on the normal everyday string and paper that mice tend to eat.
Meanwhile, a young (slow witted) girl named Maggery Sow was introduced in the story. Her father was in the same dungeon that Despereaux was sentenced to go to. He was a prisoner because he was caught stealing. Years before he sold his daughter, Maggery Sow, to an ogre of a man who forced Maggery to call him her “Uncle.” This man treated Maggery like a slave. He would hit her in her ears as a punishment. He did this cruelly for many years until the young girl could not hear well. One day, when Maggery was very young, she saw the Princess Pea and her family in their royal carriage. Maggery was dumbfounded by the beauty of this family. She wanted to be a princess, too. Fortunately, after many years of torture, a soldier came to her door. The soldier removed soup spoons, kettles, and bowls from the houses (early in the story the kings wife died when a rat fell into her bowl of soup). He also removed Maggery, and she was taken to the kingdom. Maggery was older now and could work for the royal family.
The rat, mentioned above, was named Chiaroscuro. Chiaroscuro wanted to be filled with light. One day he climbed up out of the dungeon into the quarters where the royal family was dining. Chiaroscuro climbed high up onto a chandelier. During dinner, as the family enjoyed their favorite meal, soup, Chiaroscuro fell right into the queen’s bowl. She was so shocked that she fell out and died. The King declared that no one would enjoy soup ever again.
These characters were pulled together in this fascinating tale. A great plot, great characters, and a nice ending made this book enjoyable from start to finish. Each character found happiness. Chiaroscuro was given permission to use the upstairs of the castle so he could be in the light when he wanted, Maggery and her father were reunited and he treated her like the princess she desired to be, and although Despereaux didn’t get to marry the “love” of his life (because a mouse cannot marry a princess) they were the best of friends.
I’m looking forward to reading more of the author Kate DiCamillo. Her light hearted story along with the funny antidotes that the characters possess was addicting.


  1. This is a book the can speak to a variety of readers on many different levels. The text is not difficult and the narrator helps the reader with thinking at times. Asking the reader to think about situations, to question and predict what they think may happen.

  2. I too would like to read more of DiCamillo's works. I wonder if any of her other books carry a similar style to this one. It was a light-hearted story with a happy ending and it is easy for everyone to enjoy. I agree that the book helps speak to readers on a variety of levels--especially since she involves reader with the text by asking questions. I wonder how many kids stop and think when she asks the questions and how many just keep reading. For me, I could not help but stop.