The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo: A

Book description:
Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.

What a lovely book. This is the best children’s book I’ve read since Holes, with which it shares a similar structure—several characters are introduced independently but their stories end up coalescing in a satisfying way.

What I really love about it is that it deals with darker subjects than are traditionally mentioned in literature for children. One character’s broken heart leads him to plot revenge, one is the victim of abuse, one is ostracized for being different, and one is wracked with grief, leading to this quote:

No matter how powerful you are, no matter how many kingdoms you rule, you cannot stop those you love from dying.

Pretty heavy stuff! I think it’s wonderful that DiCamillo does not underestimate her audience’s ability to understand this, or other concepts put forward, like how forgiving someone tends to heal one’s own heart, or what it means to be empathetic to another’s concerns.

The illustrations are also excellent; I particularly like how Miggery Sow is drawn for some reason, even though she’s not attractive. I think it’s because it somehow manages to make her look sympathetic even with all of her flaws.

The Tale of Despereaux is fully deserving of its Newbery Medal. I’ll be reading more by this author.

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