10 May / The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
Sometimes it takes me years to read certain books. Oftentimes, fear is involved. Sometimes when I like a book so very much, I’m afraid the next book by that author just might disappoint. So I do the denial thing and move said title deeper down the to-read pile … which is why, having so thoroughly loved Because of Winn-Dixie, I needed seven years to finally muster the courage to finally read (actually, listen to) Kate DiCamillo‘s 2004 Newbery Medal-winning tale of one fabulous, brave mouse named Despereaux Tilling.
You know what they say … better late than never. And good things come to those who wait. Born the tiny final child to his French mouse mother and the lone miracle survivor of his entire litter, Despereaux soon proves he is not like any other mouse. His life revolves around his absolute devotion to stories (he can read!), music, and the beautiful human Princess Pea. Despereaux’s royal love breaks all mouse rules and he’s banished to the dungeon, from whence no one returns. But because Despereaux can tell stories, his rat-jailer will let him live … for now.
In the meantime, in “Book the Second,” we meet Chiaroscuro, a most unusual rat who is drawn to light … whose love of soup has fatal consequences for the royal household. “Book the Third” is devoted to Miggery Sow, a young motherless girl whose father sells her as a slave-servant. She is so abused with a constant barrage of hits to the head as to be hard of hearing, as well as “slow-witted”… yet she dreams of one day becoming a princess.
The lives of the mouse, the rat, the servant girl, and the princess all converge in “Book the Fourth,” and, of course, a happy ending is inevitable. Along the way, readers learn new words (“perfidy” gets a few nods), unforgettable life lessons (forgiveness is sometimes the only way to keep a heart from breaking in two), and the awe-inspiring, all-saving power of good storytelling.
Written with engaging intimacy, this Tale is absolutely meant to be read aloud (with a child or two tucked into your embrace). If you find you’re not up for the job, rest assured that the audible version as commandeered by reader Graeme Malcolm (who does correct his “dear Reader” eventually to “dear Listener” about halfway through) is an affecting, deeply resonating recitation. Given illustrator Timothy Basil Ering‘s atmospheric black-and-white sketches, the full experience demands the book be open on your lap as you – or Malcolm – gently lull listeners into a fantastical world of imagination … and grace.
Readers: Middle Grade