Friday, June 29, 2007

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Every now and then I come across a story that just brings a smile across my face, a story that is heart warming and classic. Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux is one of these stories. The complete title is The Tale of Despereaux: Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread. It's perfectly illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering.

DiCamillo opens her story with the following beautiful passage:
"The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story."
And she proceeds to do so. Despereaux Tilling is the only surving member of his mothers litter. His ears are too big, his body is too small, and he is very un-mouselike. Instead of munching on books, Despereaux would rather read them. He reads a fantasy tale of a night in shining armor who rescues a princess and falls in love and then meets his own princess...and he falls in love with her. But he socializes with her when he is not supposed to and is rejected by the other mice. Meanwhile, we meet a rat who loves the light when he should only love the dark of the dungeons, and we meet a young girl named Miggery Sow who has never been asked what she wants and has been rejected and abused by everyone she has known.

What DiCamillo has given to children and adults alike is a story of overcoming boundaries. This is a powerful book. It is a book of finding strength in times of hopelessness, of finding light when there is only darkness. She doesn't sugar coat the world for her young readers. She admits that there is evil in the world and she acknowledges that open faced. But she offers a beacon of hope to youth who can relate to those characters. She teaches us what empathy is in this book, and paints that picture of seeing a situation from a certain person's viewpoint well.

This was a beautiful book and highly entertaining. I was so happy to read a book that faced issues full force and handled them appropriately. As a counselor, I can see this book being used in a therapeutic way as well, and I'm sure it has been. I look forward to reading more of DiCamillo's work. There was an excerpt from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane at the end of this book, and I think that may be the next book I read of hers.

This is the first book I read for the Newbery challenge and I agree 100% with the decision to give this book the Newbery award.


Kailana said...

I read this book last year and I really enjoyed it. :) I forgot it had won the Newbery. One of these days I am going to read more by her. :)

jean pierre said...

this sounds quite beautiful.

i don't think there are enough books like this lately - books that give one hope and are positive. i also love the way it starts. it made me feel like a kid when i read it. i used to get so excited when someone told me they're going to tell me a story!

DesLily said...

You are going to be one fine Counselor! Your mind is never far from how to help.. I can see your waiting room filled with this sort of reading material.

Stephanie said...

I have this on my list for the Newberry too! It looks like such a wonderful book. I can't wait to read it.

I'm reading my first Newberry now....The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It's not like I couldn't read it in a few hours, but I'm savoring it!

Darla D said...

I loved this book, too. In fact, I read it myself and thought my kids would like it, so we got the audio book and listened to it on vacation last year, and everyone in my family enjoyed it. I particularly liked the voices the reader did for the jailor and the rats - he gave the rats a kind of Italian mafioso way of talking, and it was lots of fun!

Chris said...

Kailana, I definitely want to read more by her. I really enjoyed this one! Glad she got the Newbery.

Jean Pierre, It was a beautiful story. You're right...there aren't enough books like this one, this one was indeed a gem and I can definitely see why it won the award and I have a feeling that it will be an instant classic. I felt like I was a kid again throughout the whole book! You feel like she's telling you a story while you're reading it. She says things like "Now, reader" and refers to the "reader" throughout the story. Wonderful book!

Deslily, Well thanks! I can see it now...I'll invent a new form of therapy..biblio-therapy..I'm sure it exists already actually...I actually do believe that books have a good amount of therapeutic power, I think any kind of creative medium does. It would just be nice to find a job, so that I could get in there and test it out!

Stephanie, You're gonna love it! This was the can read it in a couple of hours. Such a great little story..very heartwarming.

Darla, Oh, I bet this one would be so cool on audiobook! I might have to check that out. The rats voices sound perfect.

Carl V. said...

Isn't this a wonderful book? I picked it up when it first came out simply because I loved the presentation of the book so much. I was thrilled to find an incredible story inside. I recommend this one all the time. Did you read the little excerpt at the end...can't remember if it is in the end pages or on the back jacket flap, where she makes some statement about who she wrote it for. (I can't find my copy right now or I'd be able to be more specific). Anyway, it really touched me when I read it. This was a book I sat down and read cover to cover in one sitting. It left me with such a good feeling.

I reviewed Miraculous Journey awhile back:

And it is amazing. Gave me one of those good, cleansing tear-fests. I highly recommend it.

Carl V. said...

I think I mentioned this before, but beings that you are in the counseling field, I recommend picking up a copy of Shaun Tan's The Red Tree. In a few amazingly painted pages with few words, Tan conveys a deep and powerful message.

Nymeth said...

This sounds like a lovely book! I'll add it to my wishlist.

Are you familiar with Cognitive Narrative Psychotherapy? One of my courses focused it quite extensively, and it's basically using stories for therapeutic purposes. Not so much reading stories, but having the clients create their own stories to help them make sense of their lives. There's a little bit of info on it here. (And I just noticed that the articles is by one of my old professors.)

Anyway, I find this quite interesting, and I think it's something that you would be interested in too.

Bookfool said...

Isn't it wonderful? I knew you'd love it. :)

Chris said...

Carl, the presentation of the book was great. I loved the torn edges of the pages and the wonderful art, the opening quote, the titles of the chapters, the way she addressed the reader...everything! Yes, the coda at the end! Where she talked about her being like Despereaux whispering a story into the jailers ear and bringing light to a dark situation. Beautiful! I'm off to read your review of Miraculous Journey...I'm sure it's a wonderful book..I loved this one so much.

You did indeed tell me about the Red Tree and I haven't bought it yet. I keep meaning to pick it up and it's one of those that you know you want to get and then completely forget about when you're at the bookstore thinking "what do I want to buy?" But now I'll remember!

Nymeth, I am indeed familiar with narrative therapy and I'm a huge fan of it. I think it's a wonderful form of therapy that allows a person to really come to terms with certain parts of their lives or address things in their lives that are key features. It's also a great way to see the connectivity in certain see what influenced what and to find patterns in life. Quite emotional stuff there. I find that when I write "fiction" I tend to put a lot of my life into it...sometimes extremely unconsciously. I've gone back many times and read something that I've written and said "wow, I might as well have written an autobiography" thinking that I was writing fiction. Thanks for the article link :)

Bookfool, It was wonderful. It's stayed with me and I've been thinking about the book all day today. I love it when books do that. Doesn't happen often enough.

Jeff S. said...

Chris - So glad you enjoyed this book I did as well. I also love the presentation of the book with the torn pages. I just love books with pages like that. They have that old book look to them that's just so cool. As much as I loved this book I liked The M. Journey of Edward Tulley even more. I also read just a day or two ago that this book is being made into a film and will be out in the in novemeber or december of 2008. I betting it will be animated but the article didn't say.

Chris said...

That's awesome Jeff! Despereaux is being made into a movie? I definitely plan on checking out Miraculous Journey...just finished reading Carl's review and it sounds just as good as Despereaux was.

Rhinoa said...

It sounds lovely, I will definately look out for a copy next time I am in town :)

Chris said...

It's well worth owning Rhinoa, and it's a very quick read...I'm sure I'll go back to this one over and over again.