The Tale of Despereaux Review

the_tale_of_desperauxThe Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering

Candlewick Press, 2003. 978-0763617226.

Winner of the 2004 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Despereaux Tilling is not an ordinary mouse. Not only is he smaller than a normal mouse and has larger ears than a normal mouse, but he taught himself how to read, he doesn’t like to scurry around the castle, and he is in love with a princess named Pea. Roscuro is no ordinary rat. True, he does live in a dungeon as most rats in the kingdom do, but he has long held a fascination with the light and the world above the dungeons. Miggery Sow is a girl who has a secret wish, a wish to be a princess and live in a castle with servants and ladies in waiting, without people that will hit her on the ear. How do all of these characters fit into each others lives? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Why I picked it up: I’ve heard conflicting reviews from friends and classmates – some loved it, others not so much – so I thought I would read it for myself.

Why I finished it: DiCamillo’s book has a number of things going for it: she is a talented author that has crafted a tale of an unlikely hero, but something about the story lacks substance and while I did finish the book, I didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters or engaged in the plot. Not much is done to develop the characters beyond what makes them stand out. We know that Despereaux has large ears, loves music, behaves in a most un-mousely like manner, has a plethora of brothers and sisters, but even his oddities weren’t enough for me to root for him – but that might also have been because I knew how it ended the whole time. Roscuro is portrayed as slippery and conniving, obsessed with his plot for revenge, but it merely came off as a sort of cookie-cutter villain that is struggling with his own morals. And while Miggery Sow has a role to play in the story, I found her, well, boring. Pea is arguably the least fleshed out: she’s a princess with a love for music and whose mother died when a rat fell in her soup…and that’s about it.  I wanted this to be so much more than a book about the sort of casual acquaintances one could make in an office and it could have been. DiCamillo infuses the plot with a lot of heart and humor, creating a delightful soup of forgiveness, love, and redemption, but it was missing the flavor I have come to expect from her storytelling.

Other related materials: The Tale of Desperaux (movie), Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Lousie, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo;  The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo;  The Borrowers by Mary Norton;  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien; The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary; Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary; Stuart Little by E.B. White; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

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