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Top 100 Children’s Novels #51: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

#51 The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, A Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
41 points

The perfect modern day fairytale. I also love how she broke the fourth wall and addressed the reader directly. – Amy Miele

Charming, engaging, lovely, imaginative, and a great read aloud! – Charlotte Burrows

The synopsis from the publisher reads, “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. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.”

From her Newbery Award speech DiCamillo once said of creating the book, “Four years ago, when he was eight years old, my friend Luke Bailey asked me to write the story of an unlikely hero. I was afraid to tell the story he wanted told: afraid because I didn’t know what I was doing; afraid because it was unlike anything I had written before; afraid, I guess, because the story was so intent on taking me into the depths of my own heart. But Luke wanted the story. I had promised him. And so, terrified and unwilling, I wrote The Tale of Despereaux.”

The starred Booklist review said, “Forgiveness, light, love, and soup. These essential ingredients combine into a tale that is as soul-stirring as it is delicious.”

The starred Kirkus review said, “And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining–or at least furry–armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama.”

School Library Journal said, “This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said, “There is a classic charm to this picaresque tale of an idealistic mouse suffering unrequited love for a princess; that and a pace that lends itself to reading aloud will make this novel a favorite among those ready for some gentle questing.”

Horn Book said of it, “The metaphor becomes heavy-handed only in the author’s brief, self-serving coda. Many readers will be enchanted by this story of mice and princesses, brave deeds, hearts ’shaded with dark and dappled with light,’ and forgiveness.”

And The New York Times said, “Here we might see DiCamillo’s own career, her ascent from full-time clerk in a store selling used books to author of a much-praised first novel for children, ‘Because of Winn-Dixie,’ which won a Newbery Honor Award and climbed the best-seller lists. Some might see kinship with G. I. Gurdjieff’s mystic parable about humans being captives in a prison but only a few recognizing this is so and, hearing rumors of another place, arranging an escape. In any event, she sets the stage for a battle between the forces of Darkness and Light in ‘The Tale of Despereaux,’ and the book is a terrific, bravura performance.”

And there was a movie as well:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.