Seeing the Light
(A Book Review of Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Desperaux)
Despereaux Tilling is the most unusual mouse you’lll likely meet. Conspicously small with considerable large ears, he has always been seen as different, an outsider among his own — a mouse drawn to music, fascinated with stories, and breaks the strict rule of their kind by falling in love with a human, the Princess Pea.
Roscuro leads a normal, rotten rat life in the dungeon, his is a world of utter darkness. Until one day, when a match was lit in front of his face and he ventures upstairs in the castle, he began to crave nothing but the color and light that he is denied, and so vows to make others miserable, plunging them to the gloom to which he is subjected.
Miggery Sow, “named after his father’s favorite prize-winning pig,” lost her mother when she was young. Her father abandoned and sold her away to an old man who boxed the girl’s ear until she became hard of hearing. Finally, on a fateful stroke of fortune, she came to the castle where she proved to be a slow-witted servant. But Mig has aspirations: she has seen the Princess and wants to become her.
These unique assortment of characters will set out to an adventure and stumble into each others lives in Kate DiCamillo’s 2004 Newbery award-winning novel, The Tale of Despereaux. For a long time I’ve looking for a children’s book that I will flat out love, and this book has got to be it!
Beautifully told by a narrator that directly speaks to the reader, it has a delicate magic about it that holds your attention from start to finish, spellbound by the unfolding story page after page, seize by its peculiar storyline that jumps backwards and forwards into certain events in the tale that leaves you anticipating for what’s going to happen next.
Kate DiCamillo’s voice, trimmed with wit and wisdom, is wildly authorative — asking us questions; showing us a thing or two about what is disappointment, grief, prejudice, and forgiveness; sometimes instructing the reader to look up a particular word in the dictionary and pointing us about the consequences of certain actions — while at the same over the top, funny, and confiding yet in a manner that doesn’t feel intrusive, talks down to its reader or break the story’s pace. It’s a wondeful storyteller’s voice that makes every word beg to be read aloud.
Timothy Basil Ering’s sprightly illustrations add more dimension to its quirky characters and takes the reader a step beyond the world of Despereaux. The book’s lovely design gives this fairy tale a mythic feel that contributes to its over all enjoyment.
Over and above, what makes The Tale of Despereaux truly remarkable is that it boldly tackles weighty themes that regular children’s books would have avoided. Given that this is a fairy tale with talking animals as its characters, Kate DiCamillo dares to raise topics that are too close for comfort. She doesn’t shy away from or sugar-coat the darker aspects of her story by bringing to the fore subjects such as cruelties one can do to harm or hurt others, violence, child abuse and — the most awful of the lot — parental abandonment. Through Despereaux’s story we see the pains of being different and his search for love and acceptance — things that are not often freely given, sadly sometimes, by those who belong in our primal relationship or even by those who are close to us. Dealing with these raw emotions in a way makes me feel that it may not appeal to some readers, notable of which are parents who are cautious with what their children are reading and I at one see that this might not be an ideal bedtime story reading. But well-meaning parents please do check this one out!
Far from being gloomy, The Tale of Despereax is a book that celebrates courage in believing in yourself, honor, redemption, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. As a full-bodied soup, it warms and comforts the heart. As an entrée, the author serves up a satisfying meal in the grand tradition of the Grimm Brother’s fairy tales yet with a distinction all its own and a balanced treatment of its main ingridient, the darkness and light, each equally important but with a decided appreciation towards the latter for just as the author declares “Stories are light.” Yes, I believe this story illuminates and will be cherished by children and child-at-hearts. It shines on.
And how did it end you ask?
It may not end up in the way they exactly wished for, as dreams aren’t realized in the way one hopes it to be. Still one can create it in a way it is needed and can be achieved in more ways than one, which goes to say that yes, Gentle Reader, each character deserves their own happily ever after.
Book #9 for 2011
Published by Candlewick Press
(Hardcover, First Edition 2003)
Started: March 27, 2011
Finished: March 27, 2011