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The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread Hardcover – August 25, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 871 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Kate DiCamillo, author of the Newbery Honor book Because of Winn-Dixie, spins a tidy tale of mice and men where she explores the "powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous" nature of love, hope, and forgiveness. Her old-fashioned, somewhat dark story, narrated "Dear Reader"-style, begins "within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse." Despereaux Tilling, the new baby mouse, is different from all other mice. Sadly, the romantic, unmouselike spirit that leads the unusually tiny, large-eared mouse to the foot of the human king and the beautiful Princess Pea ultimately causes him to be banished by his own father to the foul, rat-filled dungeon.

The first book of four tells Despereaux's sad story, where he falls deeply in love with Princess Pea and meets his cruel fate. The second book introduces another creature who differs from his peers--Chiaroscuro, a rat who instead of loving the darkness of his home in the dungeon, loves the light so much he ends up in the castle& in the queen's soup. The third book describes young Miggery Sow, a girl who has been "clouted" so many times that she has cauliflower ears. Still, all the slow-witted, hard-of-hearing Mig dreams of is wearing the crown of Princess Pea. The fourth book returns to the dungeon-bound Despereaux and connects the lives of mouse, rat, girl, and princess in a dramatic denouement.

Children whose hopes and dreams burn secretly within their hearts will relate to this cast of outsiders who desire what is said to be out of their reach and dare to break "never-to-be-broken rules of conduct." Timothy Basil Ering's pencil illustrations are stunning, reflecting DiCamillo's extensive light and darkness imagery as well as the sweet, fragile nature of the tiny mouse hero who lives happily ever after. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson

From School Library Journal

Grade 3 Up-A charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution. Foremost is Despereaux, a diminutive mouse who, as depicted in Ering's pencil drawings, is one of the most endearing of his ilk ever to appear in children's books. His mother, who is French, declares him to be "such the disappointment" at his birth and the rest of his family seems to agree that he is very odd: his ears are too big and his eyes open far too soon and they all expect him to die quickly. Of course, he doesn't. Then there is the human Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux falls deeply (one might say desperately) in love. She appreciates him despite her father's prejudice against rodents. Next is Roscuro, a rat with an uncharacteristic love of light and soup. Both these predilections get him into trouble. And finally, there is Miggery Sow, a peasant girl so dim that she believes she can become a princess. With a masterful hand, DiCamillo weaves four story lines together in a witty, suspenseful narrative that begs to be read aloud. In her authorial asides, she hearkens back to literary traditions as old as those used by Henry Fielding. In her observations of the political machinations and follies of rodent and human societies, she reminds adult readers of George Orwell. But the unpredictable twists of plot, the fanciful characterizations, and the sweetness of tone are DiCamillo's own. This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.
Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 - 10 years
  • Grade Level: 2 - 5
  • Lexile Measure: 670L (What's this?)
  • Series: Tale of Despereaux
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick; 1st ed edition (August 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763617229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763617226
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (871 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,230 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The theme of hope and belief amid impossible circumstances is a common thread in much of Kate DiCamillo's writing, and no matter their nationality or age, readers around the world have come to appreciate and anticipate the messages of shared humanity and connectedness in her work.

In her instant #1 New York Times bestseller The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, a haughty china rabbit undergoes a profound transformation after finding himself facedown on the ocean floor -- lost, and waiting to be found. The Tale of Despereaux -- the Newbery Medal-winning novel that later inspired an animated adventure from Universal Pictures --stars a tiny mouse with exceptionally large ears who is driven by love to become an unlikely hero. And The Magician's Elephant, an acclaimed and exquisitely paced fable, dares to
ask the question, What if?

Kate DiCamillo's own journey is something of a dream come true. After moving to Minnesota from Florida in her twenties, homesickness and a bitter winter helped inspire Because of Winn-Dixie -- her first published novel, which, remarkably, became a runaway bestseller and snapped up a Newbery Honor. "After the Newbery committee called me, I spent the whole day walking into walls," she says. "I was stunned. And very, very happy."

The author's second novel, The Tiger Rising, went on to become a National Book Award Finalist. And since then, this master storyteller, whose books are now published in more than forty languages, has written for a wide range of ages. Her luminous holiday picture book, Great Joy, is enjoyed by children as young as preschoolers. Three early-chapter-book series demonstrate a quirky humor that appeals to emerging readers, whether the books feature "porcine wonder" Mercy Watson in her obsessive pursuit of buttered toast, or Bink and Gollie, who embody the tall and short of a marvelous friendship. More recently, spin-off characters from Mercy Watson have appeared in Tales from Deckawoo Drive, a series launched in Fall 2014 with the first title featuring the reformed thief Leroy Ninker.

Kate DiCamillo's latest novel and second Newbery Medal winner, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, was released in Fall 2013 to great acclaim, garnering five starred reviews and an instant spot on the New York Times bestseller list. A laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format -- a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page black-and-white illustrations by K. G. Campbell -- Flora & Ulysses was named a finalist for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize; chosen by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Amazon, and Common Sense Media as a Best Book of the Year; and designated a Parents' Choice Gold Award Winner.

It's no wonder that Kate DiCamillo was selected to be the U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature for 2014-2015. Of that mission, and on the power of stories, she says, "When we read together, we connect. Together, we see the world. Together, we see one another."

Born in Philadelphia, Kate DiCamillo lives in Minneapolis, where she faithfully writes two pages a day, five days a week.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
My 6-year-old son and I love the complexity of the plot and the mouse and rat characters. But I want to issue a word of warning to parents of younger children. The abandonment and beating of the 6-year-old girl is brutal, and my son was quite upset by it. I'm not saying we should shield our children from all that is bad in the world, but the descriptions are so vivid, and the girl's world so bleak, that I was stunned as I read it aloud. My son was near tears. He had never known that adults exist who treat children so brutally, and I'm not sure I wanted him to know that at the tender age of 6. I am a writer myself, and I strongly believe in reality in literature, but we will continue reading the book only if he is sure he wants us to. I suggest reading these parts yourself before deciding to read this to your child.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading this one out loud to my daughter (5 years old) and it was a HUGE hit, even though I think it was really meant for older kids who can read it on their own. It is the story of a lonely little mouse, rejected by his family, who falls in love with the young Princess who rules the castles in which he lives.
Here are some reasons we really liked the book:
1) DiCamillo is a true romantic; Despereaux the mouse loves Pea the Princess with a love that is overwhelming and courtly (like a medieval knight), a love that makes him want to be a better person. At the same time, the author is not afraid to toss in some real Adventure and even Peril - the mouse must brave the dungeon, its murderous clan of rats, and a sad but frightening orphan girl named Miggery Sow who means to kidnap the princess and take her place. Scary enough to be exciting but not scary enough for nightmares.
2) Although DiCamillo's writing style is highly sophisticated, she stops along the way to explain the unusual and interesting words she uses ("perfidy," for one), so the book is comprehensible even to kids too young to read it themselves.
3) The illustrations are charming and many, to keep younger listeners/readers entertained. The chapters are also short enough to make good bed-time stories by themselves.
One caution though - although my 9-year-old son would have been able to tackle this on his own, the heavy romantic nature of the story (even though it's between a mouse and a girl) put him off. It's probably a much more appealing book to girls than boys. But even for some boys, the adventure will make it worth the while.
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Format: Hardcover
A few months ago, I read a little blurb about this novel, and I couldn't wait to read it. Then, it won the Newberry Award, and I finally got hold of a copy. It didn't disappoint. The Tale of Despereaux is one of the most enchanting little stories I've ever read, and I have a feeling it's going to go down as a true children's classic.
The story is so entrancing. It centers around a mouse named Despereaux who just doesn't fit in with the other mice. He is born with his eyes opened. He sees a beautiful world that the others are blind to, and he is shunned because of it. He is able to hear music, and he is able to love creatures of other races. For instance, this tiny mouse falls in love with the human Princess Pea, and that begins quite a chain of events.
Of course, not everything in the story is happy. There is also a dark world that the novel doesn't hide from. There are characters who have had little chance in life and have been harmed because of it. There are characters here who have lead dark lives and are trying to destroy Princess Pea and Despereaux. But, ultimately, this isn't a dark novel but one proclaiming a message about love and hope and the possibility of redemption. It is a beautiful little novel about having the courage to bring some light into the world. The Tale of Despereaux is an amazing novel for people of every age which will be read for an oftly long time.
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By A Customer on January 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Read this!! Really, that's all I want to say to everyone when I tell them about this book. Desperaux, the tiny mouse with the big ears, broke my heart with his love, determination and courage. The twists and turns of the book are magical, lyrical and wonderful to discover. Every character is wonderfully written. Dicamillo's addressing of the reader, makes them feel as part of the story. All I wanted to do was find a group of children and read them this story, in the hushed, secretive tones it conveys. I will be reading this book over and over, to myself, my students and eventually my children. Most definitely deserving of the Newberry Award, and a classic for all time!
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By A Customer on October 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read to my kids every night though they are perfectly capable of reading to themselves. It's hard to find a book that appeals to both of them. This book does the job well. I have a boy age 9 and girl age 6 and they are both enthralled with it and eager to find out what happens next. With the short chapters and pictures scattered throughout, it makes it very easy to read a few chapters each night and yet keep us looking forward to the next night's reading. We also picked up this book because of its cover just like a previous reader. Love the look, the feel, the size of this book. It's a pleasure to read and we can't wait to find out how the story ends!
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