Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Tale of Despereaux weaves the strands of four compelling characters to form what looks like a traditional fairy tale.  There's the titular hero, Despereaux the mouse, the runt of the litter; there's the plucky Princess Pea; there's the naive servant girl Miggery Sow; and there's the devious vengeful rat Roscuro.  With talking animals, a princess, and a scullery maid, how can you not get any more traditional than that?

In tone and in style, Despereaux harkens back to an earlier time of children's stories.  The narrator addresses the reader directly, authoritative yet confidential.  Author Kate DiCamillo evokes the mood of Frank Stockton and George MacDonald.  There's little of the sass that marks so many contemporary juvenile lit.  This sets Despereaux apart from the rest of current genre.

DiCamillo fleshes out the four main characters well.  Their back stories meld well with their motivations and actions.  Despite their flaws, they're all sympathetic figures, even the villain Roscuro.  The minor characters are also drawn well, the only exception being the buffoonish king.

Where Despereaux differs from other fairy tales is in the ending.  Being a fairy tale, it ends happily, yes, but it doesn't go for the usual themes.  But you'll have to read the book to find out what it is.

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