Category Archives: Book Review: Animals

Review of “The Tale of Despereaux”

 
The Tale of Despereaux9780763680893_p0_v2_s192x300
By Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press
272 pages

This is an adventure story about a mouse who tries to save a princess from a rat who wants revenge for a broken heart. It also involves a poor servant girl who wants to be treated like a princess, and a rat who doesn’t like being a rat. Sound complicated? Not really.

The book is separated into four parts. The first tells the story of Despereaux, our petit mouse hero; the second about Roscuro, the revenge-seeking-rat who doesn’t like being a rat; the third is about the servant girl, Miggery Sow; and the forth part brings them all together.

Despereaux is a mouse who lives in the mouse city below the castle ground. But Despereaux isn’t your typical castle mouse. He refuses to scurry, eat paper, collect crumbs and stay away from humans like the other ordinary mice. Instead, Despereaux is adventurous, reads story books instead of eating them, doesn’t care about crumbs, and talks to people. In fact, he falls in love with a princess named Pea.  And for all this, Despereaux gets in real trouble with the rest of the mice community. They send him to the dungeon! Soon he learns that the princess is in trouble, and like a tiny knight in with a shining needle, he’s off to save her. I like Despereaux because he really cares about the princess, and is a brave little hero. Although the dungeon is dark and full of large, dangerous rats, he overcomes his fears and goes to save the princess.

The second main character in the story is Roscuro, Despereaux’s nemesis. He’s a rat who lives in the dungeon who, unlike other rats, likes the light. But, when he ventures upstairs out of the darkened dungeon to find the light, he causes a huge soup fiasco (yes, soup fiasco) that leaves him bitter and vengeful.

Then there’s Miggery Sow, a former farmer’s slave. She now works as a servant girl at the castle. Roscuro uses her as part of his plan for revenge, but she’s not a bad person. She’s just not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Finally, we have Pea, the beautiful princess who is full of qualities like compassion, empathy, and many other traits that most fairytale royalties have.  It sort of makes her character seem a bit too perfect. But she is important to the story.

I liked this story because of its sense of danger and adventure, yet it still is narrated with a soft, sometime humorous voice.

The tale of Despereaux is also a cute animated 2008 movie with Emma Watson and Robbie Coltrane. I enjoyed the movie, but it added, took out, and changed some of the minor and major details.

This is a great book for kids who like fairytales and adventures ages 8-11.

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Review of “The One and Only Ivan”

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The One and Only Ivan
By Katherine Applegate
Published by HarperCollins
300 pages

This story is about promises kept, selflessness, and friendship. It’s about Ivan keeping his promise to his friend, Stella, and trying to get Ruby to a better place.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. For twenty-seven years, Ivan has lived in the mall. Every day, Ivan is in his domain watching the people outside as they go about their lives. Ivan hardly ever thinks about his old life when he was living in the jungle. Instead, he watches television, draws, and paints. Ivan’s life is not sad. Sometimes he’s happy, especially when he’s painting. But Ivan doesn’t seem to realize what he doesn’t have. He doesn’t realize that his cage is small and he insists on calling it a domain and not a cage.

There’s a part where Ivan says “I know what most humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures. Come to think of it, I suppose they have a point. Mostly I think about what is, not what could be.” This suggests that Ivan might not have any hope. I think it’s more that Ivan doesn’t hope for anything because he doesn’t know what to hope for. So when Stella tells him about a zoo, a place where she says humans try to make amends to the animals, he begins to have something to hope for.

Ivan isn’t the only animal at the mall. There are elephants, dogs, and birds. But, Ivan is the only gorilla. All of the animals, except Ivan, are part of a small circus. But as Mack, the human boss at the mall, says, it’s enough for Ivan to be Ivan.

Ivan’s best friends are Stella and Bob. Stella is an older, wise elephant who remembers much of her old life in the jungle, and knows many stories. Stella and Ivan have a very strong friendship that compels Ivan to make a special promise to her. His other friend, Bob, is a crafty stray dog who stays at the mall, but doesn’t want an actual home. Bob’s would rather find his own food than be fed by someone else. At one point in the story, when he is asked why he doesn’t want a home, he answers, “Everywhere is my home, I am a wild beast, my friend: untamed and undaunted.

The other main character is Ruby. Ruby comes into the story when business at the mall slows down, and fewer people come to see the animals. Mack decides to get a small baby elephant (Ruby) for the circus. Ruby is young and naïve and asks lots of questions. When Ivan sees her in her small cage, and when he sees how Mack makes her practice her circus routine even when she’s very tired, Ivan decides he must make some changes.

The story is narrated by Ivan. But as Ivan says, gorillas don’t waste words. I think the author did a great job incorporating that concept – short sentences and descriptions without wasting words – into the way the book was written, but without making the story too simple.

Although this story is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the true story of a gorilla that also lived in a store for many years before going to Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, and later to Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia. You can learn about this story here.

This book has won many awards including the 2013 John Newbery Medal. It’s a wonderful story for anyone ages 8-14.

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