Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Despereaux Tilling is a mouse like no other. Born with his eyes open (which is simply unnatural, and quite disturbing to his family) and with ears that were much too big (also unnatural and disturbing) he is destined to be set apart from the rest of the mouse community.

He steps further outside of typical mouse-like behavior as he develops a love of reading, is mesmerized by the light and the beauty of the world, and falls desperately in love with the human princess. Eventually this leads Despereaux to being banished to the dark, deadly dungeon.

In the dungeon lives Roscuro, a rat who also loved the light of the outside world, but has now been trained in the evil ways of the rats. Through a series of unfortunate (and slightly ridiculous) events involving a chandelier and a bowl of soup, Roscuro is left bitter and hateful, and determined to exact his revenge on the princess.

And finally we have poor, poor Miggery Sow. Traded by her father for a handful of cigarettes, a hen, and a red table cloth, her new "uncle" is dark and abusive, giving Mig "a good clout to the ear" every time he is unsatisfied (which is almost always.) This abuse not only leaves her with cauliflower ears, but also very hard of hearing, and (understandably) extremely dim-witted. (Basically, the poor girl never had a chance in this world.)

Eventually Mig is brought to the castle that Despereaux and Roscuro call home, and becomes a chamber maid for the princess Pea. Once there, Roscuro pulls Mig into his revenge plot, leading her to believe that she can somehow trade places with Pea and become the princess herself. And so it becomes Despereaux's destiny to take on the role of mouse in shining armor, and rescue his lovely princess.

This is a sweet story, filled with adventure, heroism, and a very wide range of emotions. I had never read it before (and honestly wasn't eve sure what it was about) but my sister recommended it for my kids, and so we read it together (complete with the dramatically performed voices that my sister insisted on. Good times.)

Although some of the more complex themes were lost on my six-year-old, she still really enjoyed the story, and got invested in the characters and their adventures. My eight-year-old was better able to understand more of the subtleties, and got a little more out of the story than his sister did (while also loving the characters and their adventures.)

I really enjoyed the book too. It was silly, but sweet, and had enough thought-provoking elements to keep adults entertained. If you have kids, I would recommend enjoying this one together.

On a side note, I haven't seen the movie adaption, but my sister strongly recommends that you avoid it. According to her (and I trust her as reliable) the movie is terrible, and does not do the book justice at all. So if you've seen the movie, and it left you with no desire to read the book, keep in mind that the book is much, much better.


  1. I remember having seen the movie. It wasn't that bad. In fact it was kind of cute. But I have not yet read the book even though I've had it on my list for some time since I like Kate DiCamillo's writing. I loved Because of Winn Dixie. My general rule is to try to see the movie first then read the book. Because nine times out of ten the book will be so much better than the movie.

    1. I'm kind of tempted to watch the movie some time just to compare, but I think after the book it might be too much of a disappointment. (It might be a decent movie if you haven't read the book, so you don't go into it with preconceived expectations.)

      I usually try to read the books first, just because that way I have more of the background information, so I can fill in the gaps that the movies (out of necessity) have to leave. But yeah, the general rule is that the book is much better.

      I saw a t-shirt one time that just said "The book was better." I think I might have to get that one of these days. :)

    2. Melissa, I read the second half of your first sentence in my Antoinette voice. ;)

    3. LOL! For a while after we finished, the kids only spoke in Roscuro's voice. :)

  2. There was entertainment value to the movie, including a bit more physical thrill and violence as is typically "required" in visual media unable to capture the nuances of internal conflicts. I even liked the opening sequence of the movie -- more dynamic than the book's beginning and provided broader background. But in the movie, the characters were shallow, the addition of the cat was unnecessary and distracted from the better themes of the book; and, although I could suspend disbelief for talking rodents, what the heck was the purpose of the supernatural vegetable monster? That really lost me. 'THE BOOK WAS BETTER" doesn't quite get there -- this book is an intimate conversation between the author and the reader in which Kate DiCamillo helps us into the characters' skin. When you read The Tale of Despereaux to or with children, don your figurative costumes (posture and voices). It's a blast to perform! The plot is, of course, absolutely ridiculous; however, there's lots of life-lesson mileage to share, exchange, and internalize. Not so in the movie.

    1. Thank you for the more detailed explanation, rather than my shallow "I heard the movie was terrible." I still kind of want to see it now, just out of curiosity. And I have to know what the supernatural vegetable monster is. :)