The Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo
Recommended Ages: 9+
This Newbery-Medal-winning book by the author of Because of Winn-Dixie
weaves together the story of a servant girl who wants to be a princess, a rat who wants to live in the light, and a mouse who wants to be a knight.
Those of you who, like me, read the book after seeing the delightful movie
based on it may be surprised to discover how many memorable bits in the movie aren't in the book. The original story is much simpler and more direct. Yet for all its spareness, it packs a big message. It bears witness that, even in the world of "once upon a time," the route to "happily ever after" is fraught with pain, trouble, and disappointment. It shows the cost of not conforming, the harm that can result when a broken heart heals wrong, the rewards of courage and love, the importance of honor, and the power of forgiveness. Best of all, it has a character who says: "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark."
Despereaux is an unusual mouse in many ways. Smaller than normal, born with his eyes open, interested in things other than scurrying and nibbling, he soon falls in love with a pretty princess and comes to fancy himself her champion. She needs a champion, too, when a vengeful rat and an envious serving wench target the Princess Pea in a plot involving the darkest dungeon in the kingdom. To save her, one very tiny mouse will have to accomplish some amazingly big things.
It's a gentle, lovely story in which each short chapter ends with the narrator turning toward the reader and looking him or her straight in the eye. DiCamillo has a way of explaining words and concepts that might remind one of Lemony Snicket, only without the latter's pedantic mannerisms. The book leaves more to the imagination than the film does, but it also rewards the imagination with a word-painting full of darkness and light, achieving the effect of great detail through an economy of means. It's the verbal equivalent of the painting technique after which one of the characters is named. It draws on all the senses. It speaks in the tones of a kindly adult telling a story out loud to a child. And it begs to be read over a bowl of savory soup.
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here