The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.
Welcome to The Tale of Despereaux, the Newbery Medal winning book from the redoubtable storyteller, Kate DiCamillo.
The tale takes place in a castle and is the story of a mouse, a princess, a rat, and a serving girl. Their tales weave together and ultimately remind us that true love can be heartbreaking but always remains worth pursuing.
Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful. And Despereaux’s love for the Princess Pea would prove, in time, to be all of these things: powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous.
Despereaux is a tiny little mouse with a big heart who is sent to live in the dungeon among the rats because his father (the head of the Mouse Council) finds out that Despereaux has chatted with a human.
That human is the Princess Pea, with whom he has fallen deeply in love.
Despereaux’s love for Princess Pea comes to the attention of Roscuro, a rat who lives in the dark dungeon but longs for the light. Rats aren’t supposed to long for light and they aren’t supposed to fall into soup and they certainly aren’t supposed to cause the death of a queen. But Roscuro does all these things, and his actions set off a series of events that embroils all the castle dwellers.
One of those castle dwellers is Miggery Sow, a girl named for her father’s favorite prize-winning pig. Mig becomes a serving girl in the castle after her father abandons her. Mig’s only true aspiration in life is to be a princess, so she ignores the advice to “beware of the rats” and falls in with the likes of Roscuro. As you can imagine, dear reader, this is an ill-suited match…
“Warn her all you like, old man,” he whispered. “My hour has arrived.”
DiCamillo is a prose master. She has a special talent to make stories charming, haunting, funny, and wise. She deftly uses vocabulary and an arch style of addressing the reading directly that keeps each reader asking for more, ever ready for the unexpected, anxious for what’s coming next.
Kate DiCamillo subtitles The Tale of Despereaux as “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread.” But it is also a story of – as the Princess Pea reminds us – how fragile our hearts are and – as Roscuro reminds us – that “light is the answer.”
It is a story that will fill all our fragile hearts, make them pound, and will be treasured long after it is back on the shelf.