Friday, December 19, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

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

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Genre: Mid-grade (8-12 years) Fairy-Tale

Excerpt from “The Last One,” Chapter One of The Tale of Despereaux:

This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.

“Where are my babies?” said the exhausted mother when the ordeal was through. “Show to me my babies.”

The father mouse held the one small mouse up high.

“There is only this one,” he said. “The others are dead.”

Mon Dieu, just the one mouse baby?”

“Just the one. Will you name him?”

“All of that work for nothing,” said the mother. She sighed. “It is so sad. It is such the disappointment.” She was a French mouse who had arrived at the castle long ago in the luggage of a visiting French diplomat. “Disappointment” was one of her favorite words. She used it often.

“Will you name him?” repeated the father.

“Will I name him? Will I name him? Of course, I will name him, but he will only die like the others. Oh, so sad. Oh, such the tragedy.”

The mouse mother held a handkerchief to her nose and then waved it in front of her face. She sniffed. “I will name him. Yes. I will name this mouse Despereaux, for all the sadness, for the many despairs in this place. Now, where is my mirror?”

A small mouse with big ears is banished from mice-dom for falling in love with a human princess.

The Craft: The writing from The Tale of Despereaux is the kind that produces mixed results. For example, the traditional fairy-tale narrator intrudes obnoxiously upon the reader during the course of the story. Yet that same voice is humorous and charming adding a special flare to the story.

The story itself is a fun fairy-tale with a twist. But the story is structured like three different stories with two sandwiched in the middle of the other one. It makes the individual stories cohesive; yet the overall tale feels fragmented.

Despite the flaws, the story draws the reader in. I only wish the climax had been a bit stronger, which left me slightly dissatisfied.

The Story: The content of The Tale of Despereaux does not stand out with any major vices and virtues. The love shown is the romantic kind (that is, driven by emotion, not commitment), but the story also displays the need to do right because it’s right, not because you’ll receive anything in return or because you might even succeed.

As far as other issues, only beware of the tail-chopping.

Summary: I didn’t find The Tale of Despereaux impressive, but neither does there appear to be anything majorly wrong with it. Rather it is a simple, fun tale needing moderate discernment. Those who enjoy fairy-tales would probably enjoy this story.

Rating: 3 (for writing), 3 (for content), 3.5 (overall)

Buy Despereaux here.

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