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The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread ~ Kate DiCamillo; Timothy Basil Ering

October 21, 2009

Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

Publisher: Candlewick Press

pages: 267pp.

ISBN: 9780763625290

Fairy tales generally follow a formulaic plot. born of mundane, humble or destitute beginnings, heroes and heroines dream big, face the fire and, not without losing a limb, literally or metaphorically, they save the day, often bringing home a lesson.

What we forget, after much Disnifying, is that our beloved stories from childhood did not have squeaky clean beginnings. The first time I heard a telling of the original Little Mermaid, I almost cried (though my grandmother will tell you that, at seven, I cried at the Disney version as well). It’s gruesome and sad and a little cruel.

Like many of the Grimm stories, Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux is a little challenging to read at times due to graphic descriptions, mentions of child abuse or other sad scenes. This, of course, detracts little from the actual plot or message but it is something I found myself wondering and eventually reconciling with the above intro reference to other fairy tales.

The tale, as mentioned above, has all of the classic themes of tried and true children’s stories. The outcast, the ugly duckling, the weak link, Despereaux is smaller than a mouse should be with ears twice his size. He is expected to die as many of his mother’s children have. He is fearless of most things that send mice scurrying, loves to read, you know, the usual iconoclast quirks. He also has a slightly worrisome attachment to human sentimentalities and eventually finds himself head over heels in love with the princess of the castle in which the mice reside. His parents and peers are not amused and do their best to shun him from the community, sending him to no uncertain death in the dungeon.

Of course, the stringent rules of Mouse Society can’t be the only evil in a great tale of woe and adventure. Along the way, our snowball of a story picks up Chiaroscuro, a rat who, like Despereaux, has a habit of breaking the mold, a habit which once landed him in hot soup and landed the entire kingdom in a lot of hot water and Miggery Sow, a beaten down, dim witted country girl with princess dreams.

The story is one of love and compassion beating out cold and fear. Bravery and kindness in the face of all desperation are rewarded and forgiveness and change of heart are paramount. Aside from the aforementioned bits where I thought I might have to squint through the violence and cruelty, the book is fantastic and has all of the winning components of the time tested stories of old.

This is part of:

I would also like to say thank you to Linda Ellen for the copy of Despereaux!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 7:44 pm

    This looks wonderful – so glad you enjoyed it.

  2. October 22, 2009 2:27 am

    I have yet to figure it out completely , but I do know that kids see things completely differently than adults do. As a child I adored the Grimm brothers tales yet as an adult they horrify me. I think kids are okay with the harshness as long as it gets sorted out by the end of the story.

  3. October 24, 2009 3:26 am

    This was such a wonderful book! Glad you enjoyed it!

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