Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
I read this one for the Newbery Project as well as for the Reading Awards Challenge. It is the winner of the Newbery Award, which honors the best in children's literature. This is the same author as Because of Winn-Dixie so I guess this also qualifies as a 2nds, even though I completed that challenge.
Despereaux is a mouse who goes on a quest to save his beloved Princess Pea from the rats in the dungeon. A servant, Miggery Sow, gets involved in the rat's evil plans. The story is one part fairy tale, one part quest story, one part fantasy, and one part bedtime story. The author relates that her son's friend asked for a story about a hero with large ears, and this book is that story.
Strengths of The Tale of Despereaux: The entire story is a metaphor filled with light and dark, goodness and evil, but it is not quite so clear cut. The rats live in the darkness, or evil, dungeon, but one longs for the light. That's part of why he captures the princess. It's more morally ambiguous than it sounds which makes for excellent discussion with children. Despereaux, the mouse hero, is not a perfect character either since he broke mouse law and was sentenced to the dark of the dungeon. DiCamillo gives all the characters a great deal of nuance which caters to children's creative thinking. I'd love to do comparison and contrast maps on these characters with children.
Weaknesses of The Tale of Despereaux: At the beginning, I was somewhat annoyed when the author (or story teller) broke the "wall" and spoke directly to the reader. At first, I felt that she was being demeaning to the reader. As I continued to read, it felt more like being told a story where the story teller interjects as a part of the performance. I can see how this might annoy some people.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I think my favorite line was in the "Coda" where the story teller (author) remembers that Gregory, a character in the story, told Despereaux that "Stories are light." I could probably go on forever about the light metaphor, and probably would in a discussion group. This is another of those books that makes me want to teach fourth, fifth, or sixth grade again!