Monday, December 1, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux - Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA

DiCamillo, Kate. 2003. The tale of Despereaux. Ill. by Timothy Basil Ering. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0763617229
Plot Summary
This is "the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread," as the spine of the book states. In four books and a coda, DiCamillo tells of an unusually small mouse with unusally large ears named Desperaux. In addition to not fitting in physically, Despereaux never seemed to be able to concern himself with the things of mice - eating, scurrying, etc. Instead, Despereaux found he loved music, reading, and Princess Pea. These loves ultimately banished him to the dungeon...where the story of a rat named Roscuro is told. The reader learns that rats are supposed to love darkness and suffering but Roscuro loves the light and escapes from the dungeon. His shocking appearence at a party leads to the queen's death and the subsequent outlawing of soup, bowls, and spoons. This event, while setting in motion Roscuro's return to ratty and revengeful ways, introduces us to the story of Miggery Sow (Mig), a mistreated peasant girl who comes to live and work in the castle. At this point, all the characters merge into one story. It involves kidnapping and the loss of tails, bravery and love. Ultimately, the story is one of forgiveness and healed hearts.
Critical Analysis
The characters of the story can be hard to relate to since readers are not mice, rats, or living in a medieval castle. However, the struggles and desires of the characters are very familiar. We've all felt at least once that we don't belong and most of us desire to be more than we are. You don't have to be a king or a princess to miss loved ones who have died. And though the storyline jumps to different characters and the various areas of a medieval castle making it somewhat hard to follow at times, it is a wonderful tale of love, forgiveness, and being true to oneself. The author pulls the reader in by directly addressing the reader through comments and questions. Ering's illustrations also help to bring the reader into the story by providing a frame of reference for the settings and characters. His delicate and detailed pencil drawings show the light and darkness not only of the setting but also of the characters. Though the switch of settings and storylines can be a bit confusing, in the end, they come together in a beautifully woven tapestry.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Kate DiCamillo, author of the Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie, spins a tidy tale of mice and men where she explores the "powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous" nature of love, hope, and forgiveness. Her old-fashioned, somewhat dark story, narrated "Dear Reader"-style, begins "within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse." Despereaux Tilling, the new baby mouse, is different from all other mice. Sadly, the romantic, unmouselike spirit that leads the unusually tiny, large-eared mouse to the foot of the human king and the beautiful Princess Pea ultimately causes him to be banished by his own father to the foul, rat-filled dungeon.
Children whose hopes and dreams burn secretly within their hearts will relate to this cast of outsiders who desire what is said to be out of their reach and dare to break "never-to-be-broken rules of conduct." Timothy Basil Ering's pencil illustrations are stunning, reflecting DiCamillo's extensive light and darkness imagery as well as the sweet, fragile nature of the tiny mouse hero who lives happily ever after.

from School Library Journal A charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution. Foremost is Despereaux, a diminutive mouse who, as depicted in Ering's pencil drawings, is one of the most endearing of his ilk ever to appear in children's books. His mother, who is French, declares him to be "such the disappointment" at his birth and the rest of his family seems to agree that he is very odd: his ears are too big and his eyes open far too soon and they all expect him to die quickly. Of course, he doesn't. Then there is the human Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux falls deeply (one might say desperately) in love. She appreciates him despite her father's prejudice against rodents. Next is Roscuro, a rat with an uncharacteristic love of light and soup. Both these predilections get him into trouble. And finally, there is Miggery Sow, a peasant girl so dim that she believes she can become a princess. With a masterful hand, DiCamillo weaves four story lines together in a witty, suspenseful narrative that begs to be read aloud. In her authorial asides, she hearkens back to literary traditions as old as those used by Henry Fielding. In her observations of the political machinations and follies of rodent and human societies, she reminds adult readers of George Orwell. But the unpredictable twists of plot, the fanciful characterizations, and the sweetness of tone are DiCamillo's own. This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.
~ This book could be used in a study of the medieval time period - living arrangements and social standings.
~ This is also a good a good story for teaching point of view and perspective.
~ Another connection to be made with this story is that of good versus evil - what makes a character good or bad, there are consequences to our actions, etc.

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