Oct 10, 2007

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.
The Tale of Despereaux is subtitled “Being the story of a Mouse, a Princess, some soup and a spool of thread”, and indeed all of these things play their roles in the story. Book the First tells us of Despereaux, a mouse who is not at all like other mice. First of all, he is unusually small, even for a mouse. Secondly, his ears are abnormally big. Thirdly, he enjoys music and prefers reading books to eating them. And, most outrageous of all in the eyes of his fellow mice, he is not afraid of humans. In fact, he lets a human, the Princess of the castle where he was born, stroke his head and hold him in her hands. For these reasons, his fellow mice doom him to being devoured by rats in the dungeon. But of course, if things had actually turned out that way we wouldn’t have much of a story.

Book the Second introduces Roscuro, a rat that prefers light to darkness, and Book the Third tells the tale of Miggery Sow, a servant girl whose father sold her away and who dreams of being a princess. The way Kate DiCamillo tells the stories of these different characters and brings them together with such mastery was one of the many things I loved about this book.

What I loved the most, I think – it’s hard to pick in a book like this – was the warmth and comfort that this story brought me. The story in itself heartwarming and charming, but the tone in which Kate DiCamillo tells it increases that feeling even more. She addresses the reader constantly, and she does so in a way that does not ever feel intrusive, does not ever break the delicate magic of holding a book and believing, for a moment, the story we are being told. What it does instead is make us feel safe and comfortable, as if we were once more children being read a story before bedtime.

The story of the mouse Despereaux is an unlikely one, and the tone in which it is told is always light. But this does not mean that the story doesn’t have its darker moments, or that its emotional resonance isn’t very much real. I really admire the way she told a story like this in such a charming way without ever making it sound silly. She makes us feel for these characters, she shows us the inside of their hearts with such clarity that we smile when they smile and suffer when they suffer.

The book in itself is an object of beauty. Timothy Basil Ering’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and they strongly contribute to the story’s charm and grace. This is a book I’d recommend to readers of all ages. If you are having a rough day, pick it up. It is likely to make you feel better. I can definitely see why this book won the Newbery Medal.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
A Fondness for Reading
Becky's Book Reviews
In Spring it is the Dawn
Firefly's Book Blog
Maw Books
The Well-Read Child
Educating Petunia
Bending Bookshelf
Library Queue
Thoughts of Joy
Books Love Me


  1. Oh, I'm so glad to hear you loved it so! This is the book I plan on reading to my little guys as soon as we finish up Charlotte's web. As always, thank you for your beautiful review!

  2. I loved this one too :) Everything about it...Like you said, she wrote it just perfectly and the book itself was presented beautifully. Everything was portrayed realistically. I loved the way that she doesn't disguise real life. She admits that the world isn't always perfect, but shows strong characters that overcome really tough barriers. I really love DiCamillo's work! Glad you enjoyed it! New Radiohead album came out today! Download only!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this - it is one of my favorites. Somehow it's more than a fairytale, more than a fantasy novel - so timeless and evocative. You are right - this book would definitely improve a crummy day!

  4. Debi: I am sure they will love it! I actually plan on reading Charlotte's Web soon too...I have never read it before although I did see an animated version when I was little.

    Chris: I loved that about it too... how she says that the world is darkness and lights, and shows that thins often have ugly sides. I really need to read more of her work. And I know! :D I got it first thing in the morning yesterday. So far I'm really enjoying it!

    Darla: It really is a special book. I can't wait to try more of her work.

  5. This was a great little book even for someone as old as I am! lol.. I have even told my grandson about it so that he reads it one day too.

  6. I really need to read this book!

  7. I have read lots of peoples great reviews of this recently. If I see a copy I am going to get it I think.

  8. "she does so in a way that does not ever feel intrusive, does not ever break the delicate magic of holding a book and believing, for a moment, the story we are being told." Beautifully put, and a beautifully written review, Nymeth. Despereaux is a wonderful, magical book. I am glad you were able to have the experience with it that I always hope others have when they read it.

  9. Sounds like a good bedtime read - I'll have to give it a go.

  10. Deslily: Good books are ageless, I think :P I bet your grandson will love it too.

    Robin: Yes you do!

    Rhinoa: You should. It's such a nice, comforting book.

    Carl: Thank you :) It really is a magical book.

    Meli: It's a perfect bedtime read, I think.

  11. It seems like our library is very similar: God of small things, Book of lost things, and now Desperaux:)
    I just have to speed up my reading now!!

  12. It looks like we have a lot of books in common right now!! I just started The Book of Lost Things....and I have this one all ready to read next! I haven't met a Newberry book I didn't like, so I'm sure this one will be good!

  13. Valentina and Stephanie, I look forward to comparing notes with you! I don't normally say this about books, but I think it takes some effort not to like Despereaux, so chances are you'll love it.

  14. I watched the movie today. Didn't know there was a book too. I'd like to read it in english...seems very interesting

  15. I finished this book yesterday and yeah, I felt comforted and peaceful after reading it. I was also amazed at how quickly Roscuro turned from bad to good guy. DiCamillo really portrayed rats in a negative way.

    The movie's coming out soon in Malaysia, not sure when, but I'll be among the first to go watch it! :)

    I've reviewed the book here.


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