By Kate DiCamillo
Published by Candlewick Press
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.