I recently created a reading challenge for myself to read all the books listed on The Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll (#1 – 100) (posted on April 13, 2010 by Elizabeth Bird.) My very first selection is The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering.
This is a story of a teeny tiny little mouse named Despereaux. I don’t just refer to him as tiny because he is a mouse, either. He is literally the runt of the litter. The story begins when he is a baby and continues as he grows and discovers many new mysteries surrounding him. His siblings try to teach him how to behave like a “real” mouse and to warn him of the dangers faced by mice who live among men in the castle. But Despereaux is much too distracted by the fascinating light streaming in through windows, fairy tales in books, music wafting about, and of course Princess Pea.
From the moment he takes his first breath in this world he is viewed as an outcast by his family. Once his unique personality becomes evident to the Mouse Council and the entire mouse community, he is treated like a criminal and sent to the dungeon to die. As the author so eloquently states, “…an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”
And that is where the adventure truly begins. In the dungeon he meets a rat who wants to kill Princess Pea. Despereaux cannot deny his love for her and thus devises a plan to escape and save the princess. Meanwhile a series of events occurs involving a servant girl, her father, her “Uncle”, the head of the serving staff, the cook, and the jailer. The wonderfully tangled scenarios along with the detailed character development effectively engages the reader all the way through to the end.
I really appreciate the character of Despereaux for his courage. What kind of a story would this be if he had surrendered to his fear? His fear of the rats would have paralyzed him and that would have been the end. I think about the times in my own life when I second guess myself and feel like I am not strong enough to continue. With heroes like Despereaux I am inspired to push forward.