The Tale of Despereaux

By Kate DiCamillo (2004)

Read to Them is proud to recommend our third title by the redoubtable Kate DiCamillo, the Newbery Award winning The Tale of Despereaux, which joins Because of Winn-Dixie and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on our recommended reading list.

DiCamillo is a prose master. She gilds sterling, shining language and uses it to spin a tale that is moving, haunting, and moves write along. It is also stimulating and enriching as DiCamillo uses vocabulary and forms that keep the reader on his toes, ever ready for the unexpected.

The Tale of Despereaux takes place in a castle and she gives us the the familiar trappings of a castle – king, princess, dungeon, jailer, rats…and mice. Our protagonist is a mouse. And here is where things get interesting. Some of DiCamillo’s characters are iconoclasts. Despereaux for sure. The princess for another.

The subtitle of The Tale of Despereaux reads ‘being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.’ The mouse and the princess you know about. It is of course DiCamillo’s ability to make something – something charming, unexpected, wise, and learned – out of the soup and the thread that make The Tale of Despereaux something else, something magical.

DiCamillo is also an expert at turning simply, pithy, winsome turns of phrase. She talks to the reader… “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” She lards her story with glittering prose diamonds – “Light is the answer;” “Stories are light” – that make powerful sense in the story, and that readers will ponder and treasure long after The Tale of Despereaux is back on the shelf. (That is, if you celebrate them, put them on t-shirts…)

It is after you add these qualities – the soup and the thread and the wise epigrams – to the drama of the rats and the dungeon – that you have a story that will charm and enrich children of all grades – and especially their parents, too. That’s what makes family literacy take off. That’s why The Tale of Despereaux is a great read for One School, One Book and One District, One Book.