Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.

Summary: Despereaux's story might never have been told except for the request of the author's friend's son. He asked Kate DiCamillo to write a story about an unlikely hero with "exceptionally large ears." And so, The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread was born. 

This is the story of Despereaux, a mouse who is not like the other castle mice. He does not love crumbs, and scurrying, and the taste of library paste. He loves music. And reading stories. And then, he falls in love with the human Princess Pea. This is also the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who dreams of becoming something that surely she cannot. And, it is also the story of the dungeon rat Roscuro, who lives in the dark but longs for the world above his dreary abode, the one bathed in light. Three different characters. Three different quests. Yet all their paths are destined to cross. To what end? 

For Teachers and Librarians:
First and foremost, your little charges - and the not so little ones - will find themselves completely immersed in this tale of love, and castles, and royalty, and quests, and bravery, and fear, and loyalty, and grief, and learning who one is and where one fits in the world. A side-study of medieval castle life would be an interesting avenue to take along with reading The Tale of Despereaux. Have your students create labeled drawings of what they think the castle Despereaux lives in is like. Or how about completing reports of what the life of a medieval knight was like? Let the kids prepare skits acting out a quest they devise for a young knight in a kingdom of their own imaging. You can discuss themes of being different, of not fitting in, and how to deal with that. Or, since soup figures prominently in this story, how about a fun (and nutritional) aside of creating their own classroom soup? Work together to write up the recipe, then actually make it at school and let them sample their efforts. There are loads of references to dark and light. Perhaps a discussion - or whole-class experiment - on what their feelings are when sitting in a dark classroom with all shades drawn and lights off, as opposed to one with all blinds open and lights on? So many possibilities, but unfortunately not enough space here to list them all. What ideas come to you after reading this book?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Whether you read this one aloud to your sweeties, or whether they read it on their own, The Tale of Despereaux is a book that just has that certain...something. It's a story that grabs you and pulls you in. Despereaux and Miggery Sow and the Princess Pea and Roscuro and all the other characters are so deftly described and shown, that you feel as if you've known them all your life. Your kids will be totally drawn into the story. Be prepared for calls of, "Just one more chapter? Pleeeeeease?" Especially for those kiddos who might feel a bit "out of the loop," a bit "different," or who feel they're not who or what everyone wants them to be, they will see in Despereaux's story what they've been hoping was true: that it is OK to be different. That everyone is here for a reason, and so are they. And that is a good thing.

For the Kids:
Despereaux knows what he likes. He likes books, and music, and he falls in love with the human princess who lives in his castle. But here's the problem: Despereaux is a mouse. And all the other mice make sure he knows he's different. Miggery Sow is a poor human girl who has lived a hard life. Through a happy accident, she finds herself living in the castle, where she believes her life will change in a wonderful way that most others believe is totally not happening. Roscuro is a dungeon rat who wants to live in the light, but can never seem to get there, and he's made fun of for wanting that. All three of these characters don't know it, but their destinies are all twined together. How? You'll have to read The Tale of Despereaux (or get someone to read it to you) and find out!

For Everyone Else:
Children's book it may be, but The Tale of Despereaux is a story that you will not be able to put down. Who among us hasn't felt at one time or another to be the odd one out, a little bit different, or longing for a different life? Careful - you may love this one so much, you'll start seeking out other kid's novels to read. But then, isn't that a good thing? A great story is a great story, no matter who it's written for.

Wrapping Up:
The Tale of Despereaux is the kind of book that can connect to almost any reader of any age, and will have you so engrossed, you'll quite forget where you are for a minute once you're finished reading. You may even find yourself a little sad that it's over. Find your copy today, and you'll see what I mean.

Title: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Timothy Basil Ering
Pages: 272
Reading Level: 7-12 years
Publisher and Date: Candlewick Press, 2003
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.99
ISBN-10: 0763617229
ISBN-13: 978-0763617226

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