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'The Tale of Despereaux'     Send a link to a friend

[FEB. 11, 2004]  "The Tale of Despereaux," by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering, Candlewick Press, 2003, 270 pages, ages 8 and up

Review by Louella Moreland

The 2003 books have been read! In January, the announcement was made that Kate DiCamillo had won the coveted Newbery Award for her delightful story "The Tale of Despereaux." Actually, the full title is "The Tale of Despereaux being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread," adding the ingredients this story weaves into a heartwarming, swashbuckling adventure and love story.

Love story? Yes, dear reader, for the small mouse, Despereaux, is desperately in love with the Princess Pea. He is not your usual mouse, of course, or there would be no story to tell. Despereaux, the only surviving baby of his litter, was born with very large ears and his eyes open. One of his first sights was of a ray of April sun shining down from a crack in the castle wall. Thus began the life of a mouse no one thought would live… and his fascination with light and stories.

Despereaux, being an uncommon mouse, soon finds himself in many predicaments. He loves to eavesdrop on the royal family. He loves to listen to the king play his guitar and sing to the princess. Then Despereaux does the unthinkable! He falls in love with Princess Pea.

When Despereaux is caught speaking to the princess (gasp!), the other castle mice banish him to the rats in the dungeon. (After all, order must be maintained in the mouse world!) Do you think this was too harsh a punishment? You are most probably correct. However, do not most societies find a way to punish, abandon or get rid of those deemed different?

 

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Ms. DiCamillo's simple little story takes many such twists and turns, not just in the telling of the story itself, but in the mirroring of the society of humans. Peel away the surface of the adventure itself and we begin to see the hidden layers beneath: prejudice, stereotyping, greed, power and ignorance, to name a few.

Many children who read the book will not see the complexities of the plot, which is the beauty of this year's award winner! The story itself moves quickly with well-rounded characters and cliffhanging chapters. Although there are flashbacks to explain why certain laws of the kingdom were begun, the storyline is easily understood, the chapters are short, and the contents separated into four sections, or "books." The detailed black-and-white drawings that illustrate the text are quite detailed, adding a rich dimension to the characters and plot.

"The Tale of Despereaux" will have widespread appeal to children and adults alike. To check out this book and other Newbery Award winners, visit us at Lincoln Public Library, 725 Pekin St.

[Louella Moreland, youth services librarian,
Lincoln Public Library District]

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