DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.
The Tale of Despereaux plays with both story structure and time to tell the tale of how an outsider and small mouse can save a human princess from a rat and misguided servant girl.
The book, a Newbery Medal winner, has also been recently made into a mediocre movie. The story includes a lot of religious symbolism that few readers will notice. They will, however, notice the narrator’s direct addresses to the reader and how the narrator guides the reader to a deeper understanding of the greatness of small Despereaux’s feats and to an expanded vocabulary.
This book is a challenging read, expecting the reader to follow the narrator back and forth through time and to make connections among several stories that all come together. It is, however, a good step for a reader to learn how to read a book to themselves silently, since the narrator makes sure that no important aspect of the text goes unnoticed.
Activities to do with the book:
In the right circumstance, a teacher could draw out the religious symbolism to show The Tale of Despereaux to be an allegory for Jesus’s death and resurrection. The book could also lead to discussions about heroism, rules and bravery.
The story could also be used to open up a discussion on abuse, since Miggery Sow’s condition as a victim is only examined at a shallow level.
“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story” (p. 7).
“Once upon a time,” he said aloud, relishing the sound. And then, tracing each world with his paw, he read the story of a beautiful princess and the brave knight who serves and honors her” (p. 24).
“Reader, you may ask this question; in fact, you must ask this question: Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with a beautiful human princess named Pea?
The answer is…yes. Of course, it’s ridiculous.
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” (p. 32).