In 2004, the Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread won the 2004 Newbery Medal. In addition to reading this book for our Children’s Lit class, I also read this book as a child and saw the movie and have absolutely loved it. I could never put my finger on why I loved it until I came back and read it now as a college junior.
The Tale of Despereaux is a story about essentially what the long title describes. A young mouse named Despereaux doesn’t fit in with normal mice. In fact, Despereaux breaks all the rules that mice have established to remain safe in the castle by meeting the Princess and falling in love with her, and because of that amongst other things, Despereaux is sent to the dungeon. In the dungeon lives a rat named Roscuro, who once fell from a chandelier into the queen’s soup and caused her to have a heart attack and die. Because of this, all rodents were ordered to be killed if seen, and rats were therefore banished to live in the darkness of the dungeon. There are many different characters in this book and their stories intertwine in crazy ways until the final dramatic scene in the end of Despereaux trying to save the Princess from Roscuro.
I think that Kate DiCamillo is a fantastic author. Her taking several different characters such as the Princess, Roscuro, Desperaux, and Miggery Sow, and interweaving all of their stories keeps the reader intrigued on how all of the characters are going to interact. For example, it is first hard to foresee how Roscuro falling into some soup is going to later on affect Despereaux when he tries to meet the Princess and is mistaken as a rat by the King and therefore banished. The back and forth between all of the characters makes this book a page turner, and it also allows you to get to know a lot of different characters deeply in addition to the protagonist.
The other part of why I love this book is that I realized Kate DiCamillo is a great writer. She addresses the reader directly throughout the book, which somehow makes this book seem more personal, as if it was conversational, a story being told rather than a novel being read. In addition, she helps the reader expand on their vocabulary so subtly. She introduces the word in context that the reader can figure out the meaning, and then repeatedly integrates these harder vocab words throughout her story to challenge the reader, but not so much that it is overwhelming and causes the reader to have to put the book down and look up the meaning. The style of writing is very fluid and educational and it makes it the perfect page turner for elementary school kids.
I think this book deserved to win its title – I mean, it was so beloved it was made into a movie. This is a story that I hope remains a classic, as the story is memorable and the characters win over your heart.