By Maureen Tai, 13 April 2018
“I honor you,’ whispered Despereaux. “I honor you.” He put his paw over his heart. He bowed so low that his whiskers touched the floor. He was, alas, a mouse deeply in love.
At its core, The Tale of Despereaux is a love story. But in typical Kate DiCamillo fashion, it is SO many love stories, all expertly and magically weaved into a rich and colourful tapestry that wraps around you and envelopes you within its folds.
Despereaux is not born into love, but to disappointment. The smallest, and last mouse to join the Tilling family, he is perceived as being odd, rather hopeless, and very unmouse-like. But he is naturally drawn to light and to hope. When Despereaux accidentally discovers that he can make sense of written words on a page, when he discovers the uplifting powers of music and when he falls irrevocably in love with the Princess Pea, his fate is sealed. His tiny paws are set firmly on the path to greatness.
The runty mouse with oversized ears loves the Princess. The Princess loves her mother, the Queen, who in turn (when she was alive), loved her soup. Her soup is loved by the King’s Cook and rather surprisingly, by the rat, Roscuro. Unlike other rats, Roscuro also loves brightness, which emanates from the Princess’ very being. This brightness is loved by the near-deaf servant girl, Miggery Sow, who it seems is loved by no-one (except in the end).
No long soliloquies in this story, but the characters speak frequently and in captivatingly diverse voices, making this a cracking read-aloud book. Despereaux’s mother is French, and therefore complains with a distinct Parisien accent. Gregory the jailer, lives in the deep darks of the castle dungeon, and his voice is tired, defeated but wise. Cook’s is shrill as she screams at Mig to kill the “meecy” who has wandered into her kitchen and the locket-swinging rat, Botticelli Remorso, has a smooth, slick voice that oozes with deceit and evil intentions.
In the end, love conquers all (it has to, after all this is a child’s book) and everyone is left in varying degrees of happiness. None happier than the reader who has followed Despereaux on his quest, so she or he can turn back to page 1 and start reading again.
For ages 8 and up.