Monday, November 26, 2007

Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, & YA: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux
1. Bibliography:
DiCamillo, Kate. 2003. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. Ill. By Timothy Basil Ering. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. ISBN 0-7636-1722-9

2. Plot Summary:
Despereaux Tilling is a mouse on a quest for adventure. From the moment of his birth, he was bound for greater things. The only surviving mouse from his litter, born with his eyes wide open and big ears, Despereaux was always a bit different. He hears music one day and breaks a major rule in the animal world. He speaks to a human. Not only does he speak to Princess Pea, he eventually falls in love with her and goes on a journey through the castle to the deep, dark dungeon to save her life and, in a way, his own.

3. Critical Analysis:
In her Newbery Award winning novel, Kate DiCamillo tells the heroic tale of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse bound for greatness. In this low fantasy of talking animals, royalty, castles and dungeons, DiCamillo digs into themes of love, bravery, sacrifice, and hope. In a quirky take on novel writing, DiCamillo speaks directly to the reader as if they were right there along for the adventure, watching from the sidelines. This approach, which was at first disconcerting, eventually grows on the reader and leaves them wanting more. “Reader, do you know what ‘perfidy’ means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure.” The reader feels the need to do exactly what she says else they might miss something important. (It means treachery or deceit, by the way!) There is much symbolism in the way Despereaux is described. His ‘big ears’ give him the ability to hear the beautiful music, which in effect starts his adventure. They also cause him to listen to and be aware of others and empathize with them. Miggery Sow, on the other hand, has her ears beat so much that they are described as useless and like cauliflower. She is hard of hearing and slow witted. She is instrumental in setting Princess Pea up for her impending doom. Despereaux is born with his ‘eyes wide open’ and the only one of his litter to live. These descriptions give the reader the impression that he is on a solo journey from the beginning and he is bound for greatness. Being born with his eyes open implies that he is aware of and accepts his fate, and will use the ability to catch even the smallest detail to his advantage. His red thread around his neck that banishes him from the mouse world is much like Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter A that announces her sin to the public. Readers will enjoy the feeling of being a part of the adventure and how every comes out in the end. Will they live, “Happily Ever After”? You must read to find out more…

4. Review Excerpts:
Awarded Newbery Medal 2003
Starred in KIRKUS. “And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining-or, at least, furry-armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama.”
Starred in HORNBOOK. “Framing the book with the conventions of a Victorian novel, DiCamillo tells an engaging tale.”
Starred in BOOKLIST. “Part of the charm comes from DiCamillo's deceptively simple style and short chapters in which the author addresses the reader: "Do you think rats do not have hearts? Wrong. All living things have a heart.” And as with the best stories, there are important messages tucked in here and there, so subtly that children who are carried away by the words won't realize they have been uplifted until much later. Ering's soft pencil illustrations reflect the story's charm.”

5. Connections:
Other books by Kate DiCamillo:
Related books:
HAPPILY EVER AFTER ed. Bruce Lansky. ISBN 1-59961-130-9
THE FROG PRINCESS by E.D. Baker ISBN 1-58234-799-9
Find recipes for and make soup to enjoy while you read
Read about and find more information about castles
Have students reenact the Mouse Council and make cases for Despereaux’s fate as if they were his lawyer.

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