The Tale of Despereaux



The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

by Kate diCamillo

Age: 7+

Interests: mice, castles, princesses, rats, soup, cooking

Scholastic: 2003

270 pp.

Also by this author: Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising, Great Joy, Flora and Ulysses, Mercy Watson series

“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story.”

A very small mouse with very large ears is inspired by a fairy tale to dare to love and rescue a princess. A dungeon rat who longs for light hatches a despicable plot. A princess misses her mother. A serving girl longs to be a princess. And soup plays a significant role in the proceedings.

A surprisingly profound fairy tale revolving around light and darkness, love and hatred, perfidy and forgiveness. A mouse is sent to certain death in the darkest dungeon, where a rat longs for the bright light upstairs. The narrator describes how a broken heart can mend itself, but in a twisted way, and also how a person can save their own heart by forgiving someone else. Terrible acts are committed by characters – parents abandoning their children for example – but those who commit them are ultimately redeemed by forgiveness.

On one level this is an adventure tale of derring-do, but it also has a dark side. This is a thought-provoking book which doesn’t shy away from evil-doing, but explores the wounds in the heart of the evil-doers. As she does in all her books, diCamillo credits young readers with the intelligence to handle big themes and concepts. Beautifully written, this is a complex, moving and powerful book.

That said, the dark moments are rather dark. The childhood of Miggery Sow the serving girl is so bleak and sad that younger children may have trouble listening to it. (Many cuffs on the ear render the poor girl partially deaf.) The dystopian way the mouse community sends its smallest member off to certain death is rather chilling. And the terrible description of the dungeon and the plight of the lost souls imprisoned there may also be difficult for some. It’s all part of the beauty of the book, but I would save this until age 7 or so.

A lovely, beautiful read. I go now to make a list of all of Kate DiCamillo’s books and read every last blessed one.

P.S. The movie The Tale of Despereaux (2008) is changed so drastically from the novel that it will take your breath away. It has its good points (a few), but if you loved the book the movie is quite disappointing. Read my review of the movie here.

(this title available at


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Review: The Tale of Despereaux | Jennifer Adventures
  2. Trackback: Book Review: “The Tale of Despereaux” | The Cheap Reader
  3. Trackback: Quick Thoughts: “The Tiger Rising” | The Cheap Reader

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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