2003. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Ill. by
Timothy Basil Ering.Cambridge:
The Tale of Despereaux,
being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread, describes how a tiny mouse risks his life to save
his love, Princess Pea (a human) from a sneaky rat and a servant girl. The mouse
must make a difficult decision to save the Princess Pea – acting like a knight that he had read about in a fairy tale.
The story teaches
about making choices in life. It sends the message to readers that you can choose
to allow fear to overcome you or choose to love and hope (like Despereaux going back into the dungeon to save his love). It also acknowledges ho even though someone may have done wrong to you, you can choose
to forgive them anyway. Despereaux
still found room in his heart to forgive his father for the mistakes he had made. This
tale deals with the fact that you can be very small – but choose to act big.
Throughout the story,
the narrator directly addresses the reader. The narrator says, “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or
man, who does not conform.” It is as if the reader
takes a journey with the narrator through the dark.
There are times in
the story where the reader may fear for the small mouse and his journey down into the journey, but it is almost as if the
narrator is holding the reader’s hand, assuring that the outcome will be better.
The narrator defines words like perfidy asking, "Reader, do you know what 'perfidy' means?”
DiCamillo uses the
darkness and light as metaphors in her tale. The villain, Roscuro, is really
torn between the light and dark himself. This could be symbolic to someone fighting
between wanting to be good or bad in the world. Even Princess Pea and Mig are
dealing with the darkness in their hearts from their loss of their mothers.
The Tale of Despereaux is considered a modern fantasy because it contains
elements that violate the natural and physical laws of our world. The humans
communicate with rats and mice, and a giant lives in the basement of a king’s palace.
Unlike some problem
contemporary novels that have become overwhelmed with reality, this tale offers a good balance. There are factors of loss from a loved one’s death, and abuse mentioned in the story. However, these factors do not appear to be the complete focus of the novel, offering appeal to young readers.
The story inspires
readers of all ages to pay more attention to the importance of relationships. For
middle school readers, this is an excellent way to guide them to think of how good overcomes evil. Although the young readers are mature enough to understand that the mouse cannot talk to humans, it still
is believable that the characters are able to have good in their hearts.