Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: 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
Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

This is the story of Despereaux Tilling, Princess Pea, Roscuro, and Miggory Sow. Despereaux loves Princess, Princess and Roscuro hate one another, and Miggory Sow wants to be a princess.

Despereaux is tiny little mouse who is sent to the dungeon by the Mouse Council for being seen by the humans in the house, Princess Pea and King Phillip. Roscuro is a rat who lives in the dungeon with all the other rats. He longs for light and beautiful things, but when he falls in the Queen's soup and the Queen dies, the rats are named outlaws in the kingdom and he's forced to the dungeon for good. He has a strong hatred for Pea because she saw him right before her mother died and gave him a terrible look. Pea hates Roscuro because he caused her mother's death. Miggory Sow comes into the story after her mother's death when she was a child, after her father sold her for a tablecloth, a hen, and a handful of cigarettes, and after she is almost completely deaf from being hit in the ear so often.

I really appreciated how the author went into so much depth developing the background story of each of the main characters. Each of them had their own section in the story where their lives up until the point that they're all in the castle are explained. This helps the reader to create connections to their stories because they are like real people (even though one is a mouse and one is a rat!) with real emotions and longings.

I had never read this book before and I thought it was going to be an uplifting and fun story, but I was wrong. The characters in this book find themselves in some very sad and disappointing situations. It is good for the author to present those emotions though because children also go through terrible things and if they can find someone to relate their experiences to, they have security and hope. The final page in the book gives a great description of DiCamillo's purpose in writing this book.
I would like it very much if you thought of me as a mouse telling you a story, this story, with the whole of my heart, whispering it in your ear in order to save myself from the darkness, and to save you from the darkness, too.
"Stories are light," Gregory the jailor told Despereaux.
Reader, I hope you have found some light here. (p. 270)
At the beginning of the book, I was bothered by the author talking to the reader throughout the story, but then I realized that it was an interesting strategy. DiCamillo uses this to define terms in the story and help readers get an understanding of what is happening in the story.
Can you imagine it? Can you imagine your father selling you for a tablecloth, a hen, and a handful of cigarettes? Close your eyes, please, and consider it for just a moment.
I hope that the hair on the back of your neck stood up as you thought of Mig's fate and how it would be if it were your own. (p. 127)
I think this is very effective in helping children to get into the place of the characters and understand what they must really be feeling. This is a good skill for children to be able to have in order to relate books to their lives and create their own meanings.

The illustrator in this book is Timothy Basil Ering. Although there are far fewer illustrations than in the picturebooks, the ones that were captured here are the most important for the development of the story. They are all drawn in pencil, making them grayscale in color. This could represent the despair so many of the characters are feeling.

I would recommend this book for children in upper elementary school grades and early middle school because it's a great story of being true to yourself and a lot of children this age could identify with that.

After reading this book, I am very excited about hopefully seeing the movie someday!

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