Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

269 pages
Published 2003

New York, NY

I admit I am a little behind the times with this review. I'd heard of The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo at some time prior to the 2008 movie adaptation, but never gave it more than a passing glance. And then after seeing some positive reviews by other bloggers I added it to my TBR list. A few weeks ago while browsing the shelves of my local library I came upon it and decided it was time to read the story.

For those of you still unfamiliar with this children's novel, The Tale of Despereaux is an animal adventure and fairytale that is told through four sub-books within the main book.

In Book 1 the reader meets the unlikely hero of the story, Despereaux, a small mouse who was born with his eyes open and with overly large ears. Despereaux lives in a castle along with his family and a rather large mice clan. Throughout the chapters of Book 1 the reader comes to learn that Despereaux is not your average mouse. Instead of doing as the other mice do, (i.e. chew pages of books and chase after crumbs) Despereaux loves to read books and listen to music. It is because of his love for books and music that he meets the beautiful (human) Princess named Pea. And it is because of this meeting that Despereaux must set off on a great adventure and face many a danger to save himself and the Princess Pea.

Book 2: The story switches to the dungeons of the castle where the reader meets a young rat named Chiaroscuro (a.k.a. Roscuro). Through the chapters of Book 2 the reader learns what role Roscuro plays in Despereaux's great adventure and his sad connection to the royal family.

Book 3: Once again the story switches to another character, this time a young peasant girl named Miggery Sow, who dreams of one day becoming a princess. Throughout Book 3 the reader learns about poor Miggery's existence and what brings her to the castle and eventually leads her to play an unfortunate part in Despereaux's great adventure.

Book 4: The last book within the novel brings Despereaux, Roscuro and Miggery together (as well as some supporting characters) to reach the climax of the story and in time the fairytale ending.

Overall I found Ms. DiCamillo too be a good story teller. She weaves important lessons within The Tale of Despereaux and gives a nice twist on what could have been a run-of-the-mill fairytale by having a mouse play the part of the knight in shining armor.

The Tale of Despereaux is a children's story (intended for ages 9-12), but it can make for a charmingly short read for adults too, or even as a great read aloud to younger children (5-8). Because it is a book intended for young readers there are some things I should mention.

First, Ms. DiCamillo, as the narrator, does interrupt the story at intervals to define difficult words, or in some cases encourages the young reader to go look up a word when they don't know its meaning. For the adult reader this method of narrating can distract from the story, but personally I'm willing to overlook it as the novel is after all a children's story.

And second, there is one word of warning I would give with regards to The Tale of Despereaux. Throughout the book the story touches upon some scary and difficult subject matter (i.e. the death of a loved one, the physical and emotional abuse that Miggery Sow endures, the deplorable conditions of the dungeon, etc.). I would suggest parents take the time to preview the book before reading aloud or giving it to a young child to read, so they can be prepared to answer questions or concerns or hold off on sharing the story with too young a reader.

On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate The Tale of Despereaux a 4. I really enjoyed the story and found it to be a cute, charming, fresh, and entertaining read. That said, I didn't run out and buy a copy. I was contented to borrow one from my local library. Although I enjoyed the story it is unlikely that I will re-read the book, at least not until my daughter is older.

As a side note, I still haven't seen the movie adaptation of The Tale of Despereaux, but I plan to borrow it from my library as well, as I'm curious to see if it's as good as the book. And because I enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux so much I am open to reading more of Ms. DiCamillo's works, particularly The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Watch for my review to appear sometime in the coming months.


Carrie said...

Great review! And valid concerns.

I, too, agree that DiCamillo is a pretty good story-teller but her subject matter can dance on the line when it comes to subject matter that children can handle. Still, I felt that she wrote about it in such a way that it just might go over a young reader's head. Maybe not. Maybe so. Your suggestion that parents read it first is a good one - just in case!

Marie DeVries said...

I loved this book! I stumbled upon it a while back, and really enjoyed reading it. Reading your review refreshed many wonderful memories from the story I had forgotten about until now, thanks :)

Alyce said...

We listened to the audiobook as a family, but my husband and I took turns listening to it with the kids, which means I only heard about every other chapter. I think that's probably why I got distracted and bored in the second half of the book (as did my five-year-old). I think I will read it next time if I give it another try. The voice on the audiobook wasn't my favorite.

Rebecca Reid said...

I enjoyed this book. I didn't have children when I read it and those issues didn't stand out to me, but I see your point! I just liked it as a fairy tale-ish story.

Thanks for the review!