The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Back in March, we had an instructor emergency, which led me to take on an extra class mid-semester (and is part of the reason I am SO FAR BEHIND on my Cannonball reviewing). It’s always hard to take on another person’s course, especially when your own classload is fairly full, and doubly especially when their syllabus is frighteningly sparse. We muddled through somehow, and thankfully, the last unit of the course synced up with my other two classes. As a result, I got to hear three sections of Rhetoric and Composition present on book reviews and the movie adaptations students chose to analyze. It was a delight. Students talking about books and movies in thoughtful and scholarly ways is the joy of my heart.
One student from my “new” class chose Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux, which has been on my TBR list for years. When I mentioned wanting to read it, he adorably offered to loan me his copy. And of course, I agreed to read it. I know the trust and hearts of students are won in imperceptibly small ways, and I was not one to turn down even the smallest overture of goodwill.
The Tale of Despereaux, much like this student, is absolutely delightful. It’s the story of a little mouse with an unquenchable spirit, a rat, a princess, a downtrodden servant girl, and soup. Always the soup. Long before Despereaux—the preternaturally tiny mouse—is born, a rat named Chiaroscuro falls into the queen’s soup, sending her into a seizure that ends in her death and causes the king to outlaw soup. Chiaroscuro disappears into the obscure dungeons where his heart is bitter and hard. The princess and Despereaux meet years later, when Miggory Sow—the poor downtrodden young woman—discovers her own desire for greatness. It’s a rich and intricate tale with beautiful illustrations.
This story ends with a beautiful valentine to storytelling, which I think is crucial for young kids to consider. As a child, I grew up with books and to enjoy reading, but it took me much longer to consider the actual power of storytelling in my own life and in society as a whole. I believe if we can help kids think about these things sooner, then maybe they will place more importance on activities like reading and thinking.