“The Tale of Despereaux” by Kate DiCamillo, author of “Because of Winn-Dixie”, is a book that surprises with its dark themes. When you see a cute mouse on the cover, you might be tempted to think it’s a kid’s story, and it really isn’t.
This is the story of a mouse named Despereaux Tilling, who was born with oversized ears. Because of this, he is particularly attracted to music, and one day finds his way through the castle in which he and his family live, to the room where the king himself is playing the guitar for his daughter, the Princess Pea. He unwittingly shows himself to her, and the two of them form an instant bond.
Through a complex series of events, Despereaux is consigned to the dungeons of the castle, and the Princess is abducted by an evil rat. Their bond is tested to its limit when Despereaux goes on a quest to rescue her.
Along the way, a secondary cast of characters is revealed: Chiaroscuro, the rat who kidnaps the Princess, and who lives in darkness yet secretly yearns for light; Miggery Sow, a peasant child who lost her mother early in life and was sold to another by her father, who secretly yearns to be a Princess; and Botticelli Remorso, another rat who insists that bringing misery to prisoners is a kind of joy in itself, and other characters.
DiCamillo’s writing possesses a particular style that you will either find informative or annoying. Her continual prefacing of sentences with “Reader … ” can become tiresome, but it also lends a feeling of archaic authenticity, giving the feeling of an old fairy tale to the proceedings.
The story itself is filled with loss, death, and doubt. It’s all a bit too much to expect a young child to enjoy, but could make a good young adult book. In the end, forgiveness is the key to salvation, and everything ends as well as it possibly could. If you’re looking for a story with a deep moral tone to it, “The Tale of Despereaux” might work for you.