Author: Kate DiCamillo
Age Range: 7-12 (Kirkus Reviews)
Interest Range: 7-12
Plot: This is the story of a very tiny mouse who was a disappointment to his family. He was smaller than he should have been, and terrible at everything a mouse should be good at. He was strange, and the other mice did not understand his ways. But Despereaux was special: he could read! And his ability introduced him to the importance of story, and the idea of knights and princesses and duty and honor. So when he finally met a real life princess, it makes perfect sense that he fell in love with the human girl and knew he would do everything it took to honor her. This is also the story of how other people wished to take revenge on the princess, and ultimately how Despereaux was tested to see how far his love for the princess could carry him. Will a tiny little mouse be able to brave the dungeon and ultimately save the princess from her terrible fate?
Review: This book was incredibly sweet. I loved the approach, telling the story from each of the main characters’ points of view (Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, and Miggery Sow) and allowing you to see each of their personal pasts before telling you how they all three were wound together. I also enjoyed the sense of humor and repeating tendency to directly address the reader and invite them to make the story more personal (check your dictionary for definitions, relate the story to your own experience, etc.). The main character might be a mouse, but he is very much humanized and I think very easy for children to relate to. It is common to feel like you don’t fit in with your family, to feel different from your own kind and sometimes not realize that those differences are alright (even good), and can be used to your advantage or as strengths. And the emphasis of the importance and value of “story” and “light” is ultimately uplifting and encouraging.
Themes: Being Different, Light vs. Dark, Coming of Age, Prejudice (species, in this case)
Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 2004
Adaptations: This book was made into an animated film in 2008.
Despereaux: A mouse, smaller than normal and very different form all of the other mice in the castle. After letting himself be seen by the King and even be touched by the Princess Pea, Despereaux is turned in by his own brother and father and exiled to the dungeon by the Council of Mice (basically a death sentence). But when meeting the princess, Despereaux fell in love with her and will fight to get back to the light and keep her safe from harm.
Chiaroscuro: A rat, born in darkness but desiring a life filled with light. When he finally gets to experience it, he is shunned and sent back to the darkness where he begins to plot his revenge on the Princess. He is forever obsessed with the brilliance and beauty of the light, and ultimately will try to capture the Princess and teach her a lesson.
Miggery Sow: An unlucky girl who was sold into slavery by her father after her own mother’s death. Miggery is often beaten, to the point of losing her hearing. Unfortunately, she is also not very smart and quite lazy. After seeing the Princess Pea on her seventh birthday, her only wish is to also be a princess. Instead, she ends up working in the castle and is eventually tricked into helping Chiaroscuro take his revenge on the Princess Pea.
Princess Pea: The Princess of the castle, still dealing with the passing of her mother. Princess Pea is fond of Despereaux and becomes angry with her father for not allowing her to befriend the mouse. She becomes the object of Despereaux’s affection, Miggery Sow’s dreams, and Chiaroscuro’s revenge.
DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.
Despereaux is a very different mouse. But often being different just means you’re destined for adventure.