The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

#40 in my book challenge for the year, and #16 in my summer reading challenge, was The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Kate gave a reading last weekend, which prompted me to re-read her previous books before picking up her newest one. The Tale of Despereaux won the Newbery award, and it’s a sad, lovely story with beautiful pencil illustrations. Despereaux is a tiny but large-eared mouse, who is exiled from the mice because he won’t conform. He goes on to endure many difficulties as he struggles not only to survive, but to restore both soup and the princess to the kingdom. The book is not only sad, but frequently delves into disturbing portraits of perfidy (which the author exhorts the reader to look up) and evil. One character, Miggery Sow, endures so much that no happy ending can really redeem all that she has suffered. Throughout, the author addresses the reader in the same manner as Charlotte Bronte did in Jane Eyre. I felt this was a way to remind the reader that while dark things are happening, the reader is not alone in the darkness. The contrast of light and dark, and its reflections both in character and in events, is present throughout, as are reminders that this is a story. Despereaux is longer and more complex than DiCamillo’s previous books, Because of Winn Dixie and The Tiger Rising. I don’t think it’s as charming as the former, or as moving as the latter, but it is a compelling story, well told.

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