THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is
a charming story of an unlikely hero masterfully told with wit and snatches of wisdom. The book is divided into four parts.
Book the First tells of Despereaux, a mouse who was the only one of the litter to survive. It was suspected that he would
also die because his ears were unusually large, and he was born with his eyes open, captivated by the light. He was certainly
different – he loved music and was enthralled with humans. In fact, he fell deeply in love with the princess. It was
because of his love for her that the other mice banished him to the dungeon of the castle in which, it was believed, he would
be eaten by the rats who lived there.
Book the Second tells the
story of Chiaroscuro, a rat born in the dungeon who longed for the light. He also loved soup. He ended up in the bowl of the
queen’s soup, which caused the queen to scream, fall backwards, and die. Roscuro, like all the characters in the book,
are brought to life as the story is spun. Roscuro’s story is succinctly summed up with “Did you think that rats
do not have hearts? Wrong. All living things have a heart. And the heart of any living thing can be broken.”
DiCamillo has a very personal
way of addressing the reader in this book. It’s as if she is present telling the story to whomever reads it. At this
point in the story, the reader is wondering how these seemingly unrelated stories affect each other. DiCamillo addresses this
with “Every action, reader, no matter how small, has a consequence. For instance, the young Roscuro gnawed on Gregory
the jailer’s rope, and because he gnawed on the rope, a match was lit in his face, and because a match was lit in his
face, his soul was set afire.” The reader is thus encouraged to continue the story.
Book the Third recounts the
story of Miggery Sow, or Mig, a castle servant who was slow-witted, almost deaf, and wanted more than anything to wear the
crown of Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux was in love.
Book the Fourth weaves these
tales together and brings about the “happily every after” ending.
The characters are brought
to life with the descriptive narration of the author. She skillfully relates their actions as well as their reactions to what
happens to them. The plot is very original yet the setting is traditional fairytale fodder with castles and dungeons, servants
and royalty. The themes of hope amid despair, of wanting something desperately, and of the “good guy” (or mouse)
triumphant in the end is skillfully woven into he story.
Award winner is destined to become a classic.
Kate. 2003. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX: BEING THE STORY OF A MOUSE, A PRINCESS, SOME SOUP, AND A SPOOL OF THREAD. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 0763617229.