The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

by Kate DiCamillo

Other authorsTimothy Basil Ering (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 2003

Call number




Candlewick (2003), Edition: 1st ed, 272 pages


The adventures of Desperaux Tilling, a small mouse of unusual talents, the princess that he loves, the servant girl who longs to be a princess, and a devious rat determined to bring them all to ruin.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ncgraham
Considering that Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Desperaux was released in 2003 to great acclaim and won the Newbery Medal the following year, I cannot believe that it took a viewing of last year’s movie adaptation to prompt me to read the book. Maybe it is because it sounded too childish to the adolescent me. Or maybe it is because it was so well-received, and I automatically thought it would be a disappointment. Or maybe it is because my favorite librarian (who is no longer at her post, I am sad to say) said when I checked out Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, “I wish this had won instead of The Tale of Desperaux.” But when I saw the film, I recognized in it the seeds of a great story, and expected the book to deliver it in full form. I can’t say that I’m fully convinced, and certainly not smitten. There aren’t any veggie genies as in the film, but I was also disappointed to find that my favorite line from the movie—“Well, it was a very good book … and she was a very beautiful princes”—was an invention of the screenwriter, although I realize I cannot blame the author for leaving out a line from the adaptation!

I do love DiCamillo’s names. “Desperaux Tilling” represents the perfect juxtaposition of romantic and everyday elements, “Miggery Sow” is delightfully Dickensian, and “Boticelli Remorso” and “Roscuro,” well, don’t they just sound rat-like? The general storyline is great too, and much it is laid out with structure and pacing that is far superior to the film’s. Some of the characters are developed better than others, but for the most part I found them stereotypes up until the ending, despite the author’s constant admonition that we think of them as a mix of light and darkness. The prize for being my favorite character goes to Desperaux’s mother, Antoinette, who I found absolutely hilarious. She’s so French and melodramatic and … well, so very French. I love how she only uses the article “the,” yielding classic lines such as “It is such the disappointment” and “It is a waste of the time.” She also has splendid dramatic timing when it comes to fainting.

What really bugged me about this book, though, was the narrative style, which is the perfect example of a good thing overdone. I can deal with authorial asides, but when I see the word “reader” on every page I know the writer is simply too hard. And often it is used to no purpose. At the beginning of Chapter Thirty-five, diCamillo devotes three paragraphs to Despearux’s tears and the cause of them. It’s a beautiful description, and if she had moved on at that point it would have been perfect. But instead she wrote,

Reader, the mouse wept.

At which point I wanted to take out my pen and write,

Author, I get it. I got it three paragraphs ago. Stop talking to me, and get on with the story.

But desecrating library books is evil, and I would never ascribe to such perfidy. (Oh, and reader, if you do not know this word, look it up in the dictionary. Now. Or else I will have to edit this review, and spend another full paragraph explaining it to you. Right after I’m finished with “nearsighted.”)

Also … who is supposed to read this book? With a preachy, round-the-fireside narrative style such as this, I’m not sure it will appeal to that many teens or young adults, setting aside the fact that it is about a mouse. But I do not think either my mother or I will be reading this to my younger sister, as we had originally planned. Certain elements of it are so dark. The first thing we are even told is that the other babies in Desperaux’s litter all died. Later, his tail is caught off. Also, many characters die, and Miggery Sow’s ears become misshapen and she loses most of her hearing because she lives with abuse.

A great concept and in the end a worthy read, but I think I agree with my former librarian—not quite my choice for a Newbery Medal.
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LibraryThing member Miranda_Paige
This is the book that first got me into Kate DiCamillo. My grandmother gave it to me on a camping trip with the words, "It's about a mouse." and I started to read it. I DID NOT put it down until I was finished. I read it walking down the trail to breakfast, in the car (even though it makes me sick) at meals, EVERYWHERE. The story is well told and so real that it made me cry, which is really saying something because it takes a lot to make me cry. I will always remember this book and it's deeper message of not giving up on yourself and believing in love.… (more)
LibraryThing member jaimefabey
In this tale, Despereux is a tiny mouse with a giant personality that shines beyond him. This story is a true tale of adventure. Of a small mouse who falls in love with a princess and later saves her from a rat. A rat who once loved a princess and light, but accidentally caused the queens death and his own heartbreak. A little girl who was rejected and thinks being a princess is the answer to all of her problems. DiCamillo tells an epic tale of love, heart break, mistrust, revenge, heroism and adventure.… (more)
LibraryThing member katietwa08
This is such a clever and cute tale of a little mouse who has a huge crush on a princess. His valiant battles and determination will be sure to make Despereaux any reader's favorite little fighter. My mom read this book with my brother and I at home chapter by chapter. It was one of our favorite action novels growing up. I would recommend this to any family or young reader.… (more)
LibraryThing member DayehSensei
A sophisticated, incredibly imaginative and fantastical tale about an unmouselike mouse (Desperaux Tilling) and his love for the Princess Pea. Desperaux overcomes great odds (and comes across very strange characters, namely the califlower-eared Miggery Sow and the evil rat Roscuro) to save his love from harm. Young readers will love the suspense, the sophisticated vocabulary, imagery, and themes. One of my all time favorites! A great book to read aloud.… (more)
LibraryThing member iwriteinbooks
Fairy tales generally follow a formulaic plot. born of mundane, humble or destitute beginnings, heroes and heroines dream big, face the fire and, not without losing a limb, literally or metaphorically, they save the day, often bringing home a lesson.

What we forget, after much Disnifying, is that our beloved stories from childhood did not have squeaky clean beginnings. The first time I heard a telling of the original Little Mermaid, I almost cried (though my grandmother will tell you that, at seven, I cried at the Disney version as well). It’s gruesome and sad and a little cruel.

Like many of the Grimm stories, Kate DiCamillo’s Tale of Despereaux is a little challenging to read at times due to graphic descriptions, mentions of child abuse or other sad scenes. This, of course, detracts little from the actual plot or message but it is something I found myself wondering and eventually reconciling with the above intro reference to other fairy tales.

The tale, as mentioned above, has all of the classic themes of tried and true children’s stories. The outcast, the ugly duckling, the weak link, Despereaux is smaller than a mouse should be with ears twice his size. He is expected to die as many of his mother’s children have. He is fearless of most things that send mice scurrying, loves to read, you know, the usual iconoclast quirks. He also has a slightly worrisome attachment to human sentimentalities and eventually finds himself head over heels in love with the princess of the castle in which the mice reside. His parents and peers are not amused and do their best to shun him from the community, sending him to no uncertain death in the dungeon.

Of course, the stringent rules of Mouse Society can’t be the only evil in a great tale of woe and adventure. Along the way, our snowball of a story picks up Chiaroscuro, a rat who, like Despereaux, has a habit of breaking the mold, a habit which once landed him in hot soup and landed the entire kingdom in a lot of hot water and Miggery Sow, a beaten down, dim witted country girl with princess dreams.

The story is one of love and compassion beating out cold and fear. Bravery and kindness in the face of all desperation are rewarded and forgiveness and change of heart are paramount. Aside from the aforementioned bits where I thought I might have to squint through the violence and cruelty, the book is fantastic and has all of the winning components of the time tested stories of old.
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LibraryThing member bwyatt
Desperaux Tilling is a little mouse who is in love with light, music, and the Princess Pea. Desperaux finds himself intertwining with a rat named Roscuro and a serving girl named Miggery Sow. Desperaux is on a mission to save the Princess Pea. He'll need courage, bravery, and a red thread.

I love this book I thought it was really funny. The movie was not so good though, it was nothing like the book. The makes me mad when that happens.
I would read this to a young class as a story time book. This is a book that has chapters so I would read a few chapters each day and do a memory chart for all the characters out loud.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Kate DiCamillo hasn't written a bad book yet! I loved this one the best!

It is a tale of a teeny, tiny mouse with a scrawny body and huge ears who falls in love with the princess of the castle.

There are incredible images of dark and then redeeming light and of failure and then hope.

Some of the phrases were so beautifully crafted that I returned time and time again simply to re-read them.

"Hope is like love -- it is a ridiculous, wonderful, powerful thing."

"Forgiveness is very much like hope and love -- a powerful and wonderful thing."

There is an incredible analogy of a mouse who persecutes Desperaux. Because the nasty mouse had a broken heart that was harmed, then healed, the wicked mouse was left with a heart that "grew back crookedly."

This will be one of my top ten books of 2010. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member saraluisa
A fairy tale like no other. The underdog becomes the knight in shinning armor; the bad guys repent and find redemption. This book highlights the struggles between fitting in and being an individual. Though the main characters are a mouse and a rat, there is never a moment when the reader cannot relate to the struggle. It is honest and dark but filled with light and ends happily ever after.… (more)
LibraryThing member theokester
I added this book to our family bookshelf shortly after reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, just before (or as?) the movie version of The Tale of Desperaux was being released. I still haven't seen the movie (in talking with my kids, apparently they watched it one night, presumably while Lynette and I went out on an adult date). As I talked with my kids who have seen the movie (and one who has read the book), they all seemed to generally enjoy it.

This is only my second experience with Kate DiCamillo, but I thoroughly enjoy her writing style. This is definitely a children's book and the language and flow is super accessible to young readers. The narrative voice is very endearing, respectful, humorous and thoughtful. The book doesn't "talk down" to children but rather assumes children are smarter than often given credit for.

There are numerous points where the narration is very conversational...literally addressing sentences to the "Reader" for thought or mental comment. These breaks in the narration were quite effective. In other styles of books or other stories, these breaks may have been disjointing or fully pulled you out of the story. Yet for some reason in this book, it felt very natural and actually made the story feel more vibrant to me. I also really enjoyed the moments where the narrator indicates that the Reader may not know or be experienced with something (a word or an idea) and suggests that the Reader looks up the word or thinks about the concept...on the flipside, there were a couple of moments where the Narrator indicates that the Reader is likely very much aware of the concept and so there is no need for further narration about it. Again, I felt like this conversational style really helped draw the Reader into the story.

The story itself is cute and whimsical. It really ends up being multiple stories wrapped together. One of the concepts that the book points out is the fact that every action has a consequence and that many actions and consequences are linked together. Thus, we explicitly follow moments in the lives of three central characters: Desperaux the mouse, Roscuro the rat, and Mig the little girl. We're also given close attention to the king and the princess as well as other peripheral members of the story. I really enjoyed the moments where the Narrator makes clear the various overlaps and how the action of one character creates some ripples in the lives of other characters.

Even though the plot and the writing is fairly simplistic, I found that the book had some great learning opportunities and wonderful presentation of a variety of themes. As I already mentioned, it does a good job of showing the idea that every action has a consequence and that those consequences may affect not only the person responsible for the action, but other individuals as well. I also liked the exploration of Hope, Love, Loyalty and other emotions and concepts that are quite obscure not only to young children, but often to adults.

Overall, I really enjoyed this light hearted tale. It has great soul and a lot of depth. I can certainly recommend this to readers young and old. A definite delight!

4.5 out of 5 stars
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LibraryThing member SadieReads
"The Tale of Despereaux" is the story of a mouse, a rat, a princess, and a very unfortunate girl. Though each character's story begins separately from the others', they all interweave by the end. Despereaux is the courageous mouse, betrayed by his own family, sent to his death in the dungeons who escapes in order to try to save the Princess Pea. Roscuro is the rat, enshrouded by the darkness of the dungeon, influenced by the sinister teachings of Botticelli, longing for light and goodness until his heart is broken by the hateful look of the princess, and becomes determined to have revenge. The Princess Pea is the sweet, kind princess whose heart is darkened ever so slightly by the grief of losing her mother. And MIggery Sow is the unfortunate serving girl without a mother, whose father sold her for goods to a man who beat her nearly deaf, who longs to be a princess, and falls under the influence of the dark Roscuro.

The fantasy elements of this story lie mainly with the actions of the animal characters. They talk to each other and to humans, go on quests, and plot revenge. However, there are still limits in place. For example, although the mouse falls in love with the princess, as the narrator points out, not even in this world can a mouse marry a princess.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I know some people may find the narrator's direct comments to the reader distracting, but I enjoyed it. I liked feeling like I was actually being told a story, not just listening to one. I also liked the complex portrayal of the characters. Although it seems clear that Dexpereaux and the princess are good, and that Roscuro and Mig are bad, I found Roscuro and Mig to be more complex. Roscuro, like Despereaux, doesn't want to conform to be like the rest of his kind. He wants light and goodness, but doesn't have any positive examples. On his only journey into the light his hear gets broken by the look the princess gives him when he accidentally causes the death of her mother. It doesn't seem surprising that he turns to the darkness that is all he has known. As for Mig, she's been abused and is very impressionable. Although older than the princess physically, mentally she is much younger. Her bad deeds are done out of ignorance and the lies she believes from Roscuro. I think that the lessons learned by all characters in the end are lessons well learned for all of us.

This book is targeted for 3rd grade and above. If you enjoyed it, you may also enjoy "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" by Beverly Cleary, another story about a courageous mouse who saves his human friend.
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LibraryThing member fotenosfamily
The Tale of Despereaux is about courage. The characters are Despereaux, a mouse, Roscuro and Boticelli, both rats, Pea, a princess, King Philip, Cook, and Mig, a serving girl. Despereaux tries to save Princess Pea.

Here's what I like about it: I always wanted to hear a story about a mouse.

Here's what I don't like about it. It's scary.

-by Naomi Fotenos May 5, 2008 (age 5)
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LibraryThing member mysteriesrme
Desperaux, a smaller than normal mouse, with enormous ears, and a big heart, will inspire you. Line like, "Reader, do you think that it is a terrible thing to hope when there is really no reason to hope at all? Or is it (as the soldier said about happiness) something that you might just as well do, since, in the end, it really makes no difference to anyone but you?"

This book is great tale for all ages.
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LibraryThing member CaroTheLibrarian
Despereaux is no ordinary mouse, too small with too-big ears he then falls in love with a real human princess. It is the start of catalogue of events that leaves our poor little hero banished to the dungeons.

This a sweet sotry, that, as well as Despereaux's adventure, also deals with issues of being different and standing up for what you believe.… (more)
LibraryThing member katitefft
The Tale of Despereaux is a wonderful modern fantasy story that teaches readers about the power of forgiveness and the hope of finding true friendship through the story of a little mouse. This little mouse, Despereaux, is unlike any other mouse in that he loves smells, sounds, and the Princess Pea. The plot of this story is well-developed. However, the story is not told in sequential order. The author jumps between time and place in order to give the reader a full and complete picture of what the story is about. While this style of writing may be confusing for younger children to follow, it will keep an older reader well-engaged.… (more)
LibraryThing member megCleary
I read this book when I was about thirteen, and loved it. It's more of a fairytale than cinderella. I went into French Immersion, and was looking for books to read in French to practice at home. I chose this one, because it's interesting yet fairly simple. I would STRONGLY reccomend reading it in French, because the language becomes even more beautiful.
But it's a great read in any language.
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LibraryThing member woodge
I read this to Luke (age 6) over a course of several evenings. He really enjoys being read to and every evening wanted me to read just one more chapter, but I think he, like me, was a little let down by the nearly uneventful denouement. Upon finishing he asked, "Is that the end?" "Yep," I replied. And no more was said about the matter. Despereaux is a tiny mouse with big ears who takes it upon himself to rescue a princess. But he doesn't feature in the entire tale. It is also the tale of a rat and an abused serving girl. It's well-written but I didn't find it terribly exciting. Last night I checked out the trailer for the upcoming movie based on this book. It looks like much more fun. Not the comment you want to hear about a book.… (more)
LibraryThing member Smiler69
A cute, Newbery Medal winning story about a tiny mouse with huge ears called Despereaux. He lives in a castle and discovers he is able to read when he runs into a fairy tale book quite by accident. He somehow meets Princess Pea and falls desperately in love with the girl, but ostracized by his peers and his own family for having shown himself and talked to humans, he is sent to perish in the dungeon with nothing but a bit of red string tied around his neck (why the string, I never found out really). Fighting against the odds, which are all stacked against him what with the dungeon which is impossible to get out of and is filled with psychotic rats who like nothing better than making people miserable and obliterating mice, he somehow manages to save the princess thanks to some soup and a needle, a spool of red thread that gets away, and a truly ugly girl with cauliflower ears whose greatest wish is to become a princess some day. I liked the story, but didn't love, as I thought I would, though couldn't explain why. But now, having written this quick review, I'm actually liking the story a whole lot more somehow, so may have to come back and revise my 3.25 score.… (more)
LibraryThing member glade1
This was a beautiful story! I read it aloud to my son and thoroughly enjoyed the author's use of language, introduction of new vocabulary, and touching discussion of love, forgiveness, and hope. Even though it is a children's story, I recommend it for everyone!
LibraryThing member amberdoodles
The Tale of Despereaux, “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread,” took me back to the days of having stories read to me, tales of wonder and excitement brought to life in my mind through the voice of my mother, teachers and librarians. Never one for enjoying fairy tales, “The Tale of Despereaux” changed that by presenting a highly unlikely hero in Despereaux, a tiny mouse with oversized ears. Kate DiCamillo connects on a personal level by addressing the reader in the novel and allowing light to triumph over darkness.… (more)
LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
This is just the sort of self-referential story I loved best as a child, I enjoyed it very much. I found it light and original. I am looking forward to reading it to a wee friend of mine - and sending her to the dictionary to look up various things.
LibraryThing member melydia
Despereaux is a small mouse with large ears who loves music and falls in love with a human princess. Roscuro is a dungeon rat who loves light. Miggory Sow is a slow-witted, half-deaf serving girl who longs for more. Their stories intertwine to form one lovely little fairy tale. I think my favorite part was how involved the narrator was, constantly talking directly to the reader as if you're there in the room with them. This is the sort of book I would have enjoyed as a kid.… (more)
LibraryThing member drruth
This novel takes many of the conventions of fairy tales and plays with them to produce a charming story of a mouse with gigantic ears who rescues a princess. It sounds simple enough, but the pieces are put together in a humorous and innovative way that will appeal to both children and adults and convey conventional fairy tale themes of bravery and honesty with a sense of humor that will appeal to modern readers.… (more)
LibraryThing member readasaurus
The Tale of Despereaux has what every epic tale should: a lovable and unlikely hero, a mismatched love story, a scary villain in an underworld, redemption, forgiveness, and adventure in every chapter. Teachers can use this book with upper elementary and middle school students, or it would be great as a read aloud for younger students. The audio version of this story is gripping; I highly recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member ekean06
This children's novel is a good example of fantasy becasue the author personifies the Despereaux, a mouse, his mouse family, and the rats to have human like characteristics and motives. In the tale Despereaux is born as a different sort of mouse who doesn't fit in. After talking to the Princess, a human, Despereaux falls in love with her, but is excommunicated and sent to the Dungeon where the rats live. Desperaux escapes, but learns of a plot by a rat to harm Princess Pea. Through bravery and a great deal of wit Despereaux saves the day and learns a great deal about himself in the process.… (more)




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