The Tale of Despereaux
Published September 9, 2008
About The Tale of Despereaux
A brave mouse, a covetous rat, a wishful serving girl, and a princess named Pea come together in Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal–winning tale.
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish.
These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.
This one is a hard one for me to review. Let me start by saying that I’ve read several other books by Kate DiCamillo, and I loved all of them so far. I think FLORA & ULYSSES is my favorite. So I went into this book expecting to absolutely love it.
Which is maybe part of my problem.
I think there are a lot of really cool elements to this story. There are some interesting themes about light versus darkness, and what happens to people who are forced to live in darkness, separated from any light. I liked the whimsical elements, like the king with his bizarre proclamations, such as making soup illegal. I liked that Despereaux and his love for the princess drove the story forward, too. And I liked the way all the individual stories of the characters, including Miggery Sow and Roscuro came together.
But. The story was a lot darker than I was expecting. The dungeon was so creepy. And the fact that Despereaux’s own family essentially sentences him to death. Miggery Sow endures some pretty awful abuse, and those experiences are related to us in a pretty frank way. I think that can sometimes be an effective way to tell the reader something shocking, and it works here. I couldn’t help feeling shocked and horrified for this girl (who has a terrible name on top of everything else).
But then I felt like there was no sympathy from the author later when Mig finally does get free and begins living at the castle as a servant. I guess that was supposed to set up how we feel about her going into the main conflict in the story, but I had a hard time with that.
On the whole, though, I did like some of the characters and the way the pieces of the story fit together. I did find myself wishing it wasn’t such a dark story. If I were to opt for a read-aloud from the books I’ve read by DiCamillo, I think I would still choose FLORA & ULYSSES.
Content Notes for The Tale of Despereaux
Recommended for Ages 10 to 12.
Human characters are white. Miggery Sow has some deafness as the result of abuse.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
When Despereaux meets Princess Pea, he falls hopelessly in love with her and vows to serve her as her knight.
A couple characters experience moments of decision where they may choose to forgive someone who harmed them or continue on the path toward revenge. They recognize that forgiveness will give them one kind of result internally and revenge a different one.
A mouse gives birth, but only one of her babies survive. A mouse is sentenced to death and thrown into the dungeon, where the rats who live there are predicted to eat him. A man wallows in guilt after having sold his daughter to another man. A man beats a girl so terribly that her ears become deformed and she can barely hear. She’s later described as having become fat and lazy, which seems like a pretty harsh thing to say about someone who’s endured the trauma this girl has. Additionally, I didn’t even notice her being lazy.
Some scenes reference prisoners in the dungeon being lost and teased or tortured by the rats who live there.
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