164 of 171 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2004
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.
242 of 258 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2004
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.
82 of 91 people found the following review helpful
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.
43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2004
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!
67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2003
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!
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on March 4, 2010
"Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful."
That's what Ms. Dicamillo intended to deliver in her book "The Tale of Despereaux". Unfortunately, this message starts to blur as the plot unfolds gradually, and finally the story leaves the reader in a fog of sadness, disappointment and confusion.
Despereaux, a lovable, courageous mouse who ridiculously fell in love with a beautiful princess, was unintentionally overshadowed by the poor, tragic girl, Miggery Sow.
She was abandoned and sold by her father "for a tablecloth, a hen, and a handful of cigarettes"; she was so badly abused by her buyer "Uncle" so frequently that her painful ears "became about as useful to her as pieces of cauliflower"; miserably, under the author's pen, she was also fat, lazy and "her head stayed small".
All of these didn't seem horrible enough to her, the author abused her further by keeping ridiculing her ruthlessly through the demeaning narration with details in a sweet tone. How could she?! What's the purpose of all such cruelty to the poor girl? Serving as entertainment? I can't believe it.
Oh, if the world is dark, as Ms. Dicamillo said in her book, I would rather sit with my daughter outside watching the stars in the sky.
201 of 245 people found the following review helpful
A better idea in its conception than its execution. I enjoy stories where animals speak, and this one began with great promise. The initial tale of the mouse Despereaux is good, and it leads nicely into the story of the rat Roscuro. Unfortunately, once the book hits the story of the servant girl Miggery Sow, it looses itself. The Miggery Sow plotline is rather horrendous in the face of the others. In it, a girl's mother dies, her father trades her to a man that beats her soundly day in and out, and as a result she's nearly deaf. Once she arrives at the castle she becomes fat and beaten even more by her fellow servants. This would be all well and good if it was done with any sympathy at all. It is not. The girl is stupid and scenes of her beatings are told with a disturbingly jovial tone about the, "clouts" about the ears. There is no sympathy for the working poor in this book. The only sympathetic lower class character, the jailor Gregor, is ceremoniously killed off without so much as a final scene. The cook is suddenly supposed to become a likable character when she serves soup to Despereaux, the author hoping the reader will forget that not 100 pages ago she was last seen beating a 12 year-old girl. The princess, who has grown up rich and beautiful, has no flaws. Her father is stupid, but not evil. In the end, this story has attempted to be about dreams and how they don't always come true. This is all well and good, but it feels patched together. It is almost as if the author didn't know where she was going with the plot as she wrote. For a much better story of a young mouse learning about courage, see "Redwall" by Brian Jacques or Avi's "Poppy". All this isn't to say I don't wish I loved it more. I do! But somehow I just couldn't love it as everyone else did.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2004
_The Tale of Despereaux_ aspires to become a children's classic, but fails due to its poorly realised characters, conventional fairy-tale cliches, and an intrusive narrative voice that attempts to ingratiate itself to the reader. Is it necessary to address the reader so patronisingly in every single chapter (di Camillo seems to underestimate the intelligence of her readers)? The novel also lacks subtlety in dialogue, and delivers very obvious themes such as light vs. darkness and a trite heroism found in the title character. Its ending is abrupt and may not satisfy readers' more detailed questions about how the lives of the protagonists resolve. Stories indeed are light, as Gregory the jailkeeper says, but Kate di Camillo's latest effort, while at times charming, lacks the radiance and perceptiveness of a true classic.
For another story about mice that is di Camillo's superior in every way, consider Russell Hoban's _The Mouse and His Child_ (di Camillo is indebted to Hoban's depiction of Manny Rat for her Roscuro). _The Mouse and His Child_ is a satisfying tale that doesn't flinch at depicting the harrowing sorrows and joys of childhood, and, unlike _Despereaux_, would continue to delight upon subsequent readings.
60 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2007
Let me first state I do not have a problem with "dark" children's books. Roald Dahl is not all sunshine and light, nor is Lemony Snicket and we love them. I do not quibble with challenging situations in children's literature.
However, in a book that antropomorphizes creatures, where the spectacular may occur, I feel compelled to agree with my fellow critics who state that the treatment of the character Miggory Sow is atrocious....but the treatment of the character is only a by-product of a flawed tale that abuses the simplistic premise that all that is beautiful is good and things that are not, aren't.
My children and I discussed this problem. The princess in the story is beautiful. She is so much light and goodness, in fact, that her character lacks any shading. She represents everything good and Desperaux worships her, though she does little good besides look good. Miggory Sow is an unattractive house girl, with pig eyes and cauliflower ears from abuse. She is written with little depth or much humanity. The story implies that her station in life and looks are all we need consider to indicate a lack of intelligence or beauty in her soul. Miggory Sow was written so unsympathetically and the princess so one-sided, I wondered if Ms. Dicamillo was giving us her views on the social order.
It was an interesting discussion with my children. My three daughters thought it was mildly interesting - but not recommendable. My sons didn't care for it. I hated it. We sold the book, though I considered throwing it away. Just one family's opinion....
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2004
The tale of the underdog never grows old, and here we have a tale of several: the mouse born with his eyes open, the rat who likes light, the peasant who wants to be a princess. Great start.
This takes place in one of those fantasy worlds that has a vaguely medieval feel. You know it is medieval because people say things such as "Gor!" and there are job titles such as "scullery maid" and the royal family seems to be self-sufficient, with no other government. There's a big old dungeon, too.
Then, ouch ouch ouch, the details are all wrong. A little girl is sold "for cigarettes." A mouse wields a steel sewing needle. Slavery is illegal.
In a medieval world wherein the king is paramount and a dungeon is actively used, none of those things would be possible. I KNOW it is fantasy, but in good fantasy the world makes sense within itself. Think Zelazny, or Tolkien, Jacques, or even Snicket. With this, are we in the 1800's fantasy? 1400's? Trying to make sense of this messes up the story.
Worse, in one of those "how could you" moments, the beaten and abused little girl for whom we are sorry in the beginning turns into a bad guy, and just as she turns into a bad guy, she also gets fat. Didn't the author or her editors see this tired old cliche coming? (P.S. Her language gets noticably stupider as she gets fat.)
Oh yeah, the protaganist female is rich and the bad one is poor. No respect for the working class here. Ick ick ick. (Working class can read, too, ya know.) The one sympathic working class character gets killed ignobly. Phooey.
Some of the characters are engaging, the title one, for example. And the most obvious messages, "It's OK to be different," and "Keep trying," are good. But we have heard them.
This is a sweetish, easy to read book with a lot of disturbing undercurrents.