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The Tale of Despereaux

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The Tale of Despereaux DiCamillo, Kate.  2003.  The tale of Despereaux:  Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.  Ill. by Timothy Basil Ering.  Cambridge, MA:  Candlewick Press.  ISBN:  0763617229.

Despereaux is born the tiniest of all the mice in the castle, but he is the spunkiest and most ambitious of them all.  He decides not to do normal mice things such as scurrying and chewing but chooses instead to pursue higher interests such as music and literature.  After falling in love with the princess of the castle, Despereaux is banished to the dungeon for breaking the mice's rule of not communicating with humans.  While in the dungeon, he learns of an evil plot to kidnap the princess and must find a way to save her.

Divided into four separate books within itself (Book the First, Book the Second, etc) and illustrated with detailed black and white drawings by Ering, The Tale of Despereaux creates a world in which mice and rats have their own little civilizations within the walls of the castle and are able to communicate with each other and also humans.  DiCamillo gives such insight into the physical traits and personality of Despereaux that the reader comes to feel they know him well through passages such as, "He was ridiculously small.  His ears were obscenely large.  He had been born with his eyes open.  And he was sickly.  He coughed and sneezed so often that he carried a handkerchief in one paw at all times.  He ran temperatures.  He fainted at loud noises.  Most alarming of all, he showed no interest in the things a mouse should show interest in." (p.17) 

A unique aspect of DiCamillo's writing style in Despereaux is her ongoing conversation with the reader.  Throughout the book, she addresses her audience by name (reader) and makes it seem as if the reader were having a chat with a storyteller as a magnificent tale is being woven.  Paragraphs such as this are sprinkled throughout the text:  "Imagine, if you will, having spent the whole of your life in a dungeon.  Imagine that late one spring day, you step out of the dark and into a world of bright windows and polished floors, winking copper pots, shining suits of armor, and tapestries of gold." (p.103)  Dicamillo's vivid descriptions of the setting and invitation to participate in the story seem to draw the reader even more into Despereaux's world.

Although Despereaux is the main character, many other characters who come from different walks of life are brought together by fate at the climax of this tale.  Miggery Sow, a poor servant girl, is reunited with the father who once rejected her.  The king and the princess are able to put aside some of the grief that they feel at the loss of the queen and begin to have some light in their life again.  And, finally, Despereaux and the princess he loves are able to be friends.  DiCamillo seems to be saying through these characters that love does triumph over evil in the end.

All Materials for this Site created by:
Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University