The Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Timothy Basil Ering
“He can’t live,” says Despereaux’s father. “ ‘Not with his eyes open like that.’ But reader, he did live. This is his story.” The narrator of The Tale of Despereaux gently guides us through the dark and haunting parts of existence that this unlikely hero uncovers in his travels. Despereaux is a mouse who would rather read a book than eat the glue that binds its pages together. He would rather use his imagination than learn by rote the rules his teacher and parents hand down, but there is a price: “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” As Despereaux goes against the rules, such as reading books rather than eating them, and falling in love with a human princess (“Rodents do not speak to princesses,” says the king, “We will not have this becoming a topsy-turvy, wrong-headed world”), the narrator is there to reassure us. The subtitle—“Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread”—lays out the separate subplots that come together into a triumphant climax. Spacious pages and sumptuous half-tone illustrations recall Victorian-era storybooks. This is a book about loving words and stories, being true to oneself, and summoning the courage to stand up for and do what is right—even if these courageous acts may seem Quixotic at times.
Here Kate DiCamillo talks about her approach to writing: