Friday, May 26, 2006

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo

Love and forgiveness. Dark and light. Opposites coming together for balance. These seem to be the thoughts at the center of The Tale of Despereaux : Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate Dicamillo. I read Despereaux to a third grade class when it was chosen as the Newbery Medal Book of 2004. Most of the children seemed enchanted by it. I wasn't completely sure why. It was a charming story but nothing about it made me overly excited. I originally chalked it up to age. Perhaps I was too old to grasp the true charm of Despereaux.

A few weeks ago I listened to the audio version as read by Graeme Malcolm. I had heard mixed reviews concerning the audio version. I LOVED it and I think I now understand my students reaction. While Despereaux is a good story, there is something it gains in the reading of it aloud. It is a book to be shared! Despereaux is one of those books that should be read aloud and explored by parent and child together. Suddenly, upon this realization, Despereaux became a very different book in my eyes.

Despereaux is a type of fairytale and contains three separate but intertwining story lines:

  • The story of Despereaux, a small mouse born with his ears too big and his eyes open. He breaks all mouse laws, loves all things beautiful, and is condemned for speaking to a human princess.
  • The story of Roscuro, a rat who delights in the torment of others. He is born into the dark world of the dungeon but longs for the light of the upper world and the wonderful soup contained within that world.
  • The story of Miggery Sow, a farm girl who longs to be a princess. She is sold by her father, abused by the man who purchases her, and used as a pawn by Roscuro.

My only area of dislike was the story of Miggery. There is no escape for poor Miggery in the tale of her world. She is abused. She is neglected. She receives no love. Later she is depicted as slow-witted, which seems to be how she is duped by Roscuro. I don't think that is true though. I think Miggery falls for the rat's plans because he shows her a kind of twisted kindness and seems to respect her. Miggery gets very little respect or kindness anywhere else in her world. Now, the abuse and reactions given to Miggery by other characters is probably very appropriate to the Middle Ages. Miggery's plight does reflect the truth that not all lives are happy. It's all true. It's all real. It's all appropriate to the story. Still, it bothered me.

All in all, Desperaux is a wonderful story. The story was charming, challenging, and fun to read - better if shared aloud.

Card catalog description:
The adventures of Desperaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the princess that he loves, the servant girl who longs to be a princess, and a devious rat determined to bring them all to ruin.


Kandii said...

Aww, that sounds like an adorable tale. I'm SO gonna go read that book.

Wonder Mom said...

I read this aloud with my twin daughters - it's as you said. Much more when shared! Thanks for the great reviews - keep them coming!