Title: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Major Themes: Animal Stories, Fantasy
Synopsis: The story of a tiny mouse who loved a princess and wanted to save her.
Not too long ago, I picked up a very silly, but also delightful, book about a mouse who flew an airplane across the United States. So when I saw The Tale of Despereaux on a friend’s shelf, and noticed the author had also written Because of Winn Dixie, I borrowed it. What a delightful story! It’s a fairy tale with a twist and a bit more excitement than you’d normally find most places.
Despereaux was a small mouse. A small mouse with impossibly big ears. As he grew up, he learned that he could read…that he liked the light…that music did something inside of him to make him happy. And, most of all, he fell in love with the princess and decided he would do his best to protect her—no matter what. In the same castle, though, a rat lived who wanted to destroy the princess—and then when a servant girl comes along with dreams of being the princess, life becomes a bit muddled. Can Despereaux actually take care of the princess, when things start going impossibly wrong?
The Tale of Despereaux is really sweet. Impossible, of course, but sweet, and a fun read. As a child who enjoyed fanciful stories like this, this just delights my heart—I could easily imagine myself writing this story, or telling it to my siblings. If you have children who enjoy slightly wacky stories, I’d recommend this. It’s a fairly clean, easy read.
Edited to add: I’ve noticed that some readers have mentioned the darker side to this story, and yes, that’s there too. There are some quite sad elements, where different characters are bent on revenge at all costs—or are just cruel for the sake of being cruel. However, I found the story in its entirety to be quite redemptive, and focused more on the side of forgiveness and hope rather than the dark elements. Good wins in the end, and I believe even foolish stories like this can show that despite everything going against you, doing what is right is always worth it in the end—and bringing Christ’s light and hope to the world will never be a futile effort. (This isn’t a Christian book, by any means, but lessons like that can be drawn out of the story.)
WARNING: “Cripes” is used once or multiple times in ch. 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, and 52. “Geez” is used in ch. 9 and 13. “Lord, child” is used in ch. 24. “Gor” is used frequently in ch. 25 – 37, 49, and 51. A man admits to stealing and trading his girl off for a few possessions in ch. 18. In ch. 21, the queen dies. There’s a mention of men who got lost in a dungeon, couldn’t find their way out, and died in ch 23. A woman dies in ch. 24. There’s a bit of description about how a man beat a girl’s ears in ch. 25. A mouse’s tail is cut off in ch. 34, and a rat loses his in ch. 51. A man is lost forever in a dungeon in ch. 36. A man is found dead in ch. 39. In ch. 41, the king says he’s hired fortune-tellers and a magician to help find his daughter. A mouse sees the bones of many dead people and rodents in ch. 48. A rat’s life is threatened in ch. 51.
Listening Level—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15