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The Tale of Despereaux Review by Wayne S. Walker

By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press
2067 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02140

Kate DiCamillo is best known as the author of Because of Winn-Dixie, which was a Newberry Honor Book. I have not read Because of Winn-Dixie, although I have seen it on bookstore shelves and it is on my list of books to read (if anyone has read it and would like to share an opinion of it, I would be happy to hear from you).

The Tale of Despereaux is a story of Despereaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the Princess Pea whom he loves, Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl with the simple, impossible wish to be a princess, and Roscuro, a rat who lives in darkness, but covets a world filled with light and so determines to bring all the others to ruin. There are a few things about the book that I do not like. Despereaux's mother, who is French, keeps uttering "Mon Dieu." If you know French, you know what that means. When I was in high school French class (over 30 years ago), one of the students asked the teacher how to say, "My gosh." She looked it up in her English-French dictionary and responded, "Mon Dieu." That literally means, "My God." At least, the French obviously know the derivation and meaning of the euphemism "My gosh." I do not think that children's books should use the Lord's name in vain in any language! A few of the actions might seem a little over the edge to those who are somewhat sensitive - Miggery's father sells her for some cigarettes and a red table cloth; the man who buys her for a servant boxes her ears so much that they look like cauliflower and she is almost dead; and Roscuro does something in carrying out his plan that intentionally results in the death of Gregory, the kindly dungeon keeper.

When I started reading, I thought it might be like the dreadful Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snickett, where all is doom and gloom, hopelessness and despair. DiCamillo does some things almost exactly like Snickett does - addressing the readers directly, asking if they know what certain words mean, and then defining those words. There is also a lot of sadness and woe. However, as I kept reading, I did see little flickers of light and hope along the way (unlike in A Series of Unfortunate Events), leading to a rather heroic conclusion in which good triumphs over evil. My wife did not care for the sympathy that was tendered in the end toward the rat that had done so much evil and deserved punishment, but I preferred to see it as a situation where he realized the error of his ways and changed his life. In all, it is not a bad book.

Language level: 2.
Ages: 10-14.

--Product Review by: Wayne S. Walker, Missouri State Coordinator, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine