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
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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)
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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 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
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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
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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
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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 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
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action novels growing up. I would recommend this to any family or young reader.
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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
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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.
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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
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relate to the struggle. It is honest and dark but filled with light and ends happily ever after.
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LibraryThing member jbergst1
The Tale of Desperaux is an enchanting story about a mouse that must overcome great obsticles. I have read this book aloud to my fourth grade class for the past several years. The author interacts with the reader asking direct questions.
LibraryThing member tapestry100
The Tale of Despereaux is really 3 stories in one that all intertwine around one central character, the Princess Pea, at the end. It is the story of Despereaux Tilling, an uncommonly small mouse who was born with his eyes open and who has uncommonly large ears and who falls in love with the
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Princess Pea; it is the story of the rat Chiaroscuro, who discovers the joys of light even though his place should be in the dungeon and learns a great hatred for and wishes for revenge on the Princess Pea; and it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted servant girl whose greatest wish in the world is to be just like the Princess Pea.

I was intrigued by this book after a friend recommended DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, which is a beautiful cathartic tale of love and loss. The Tale of Despereaux just doesn't seem to have the same impact on me. Ultimately, it is a story of forgiveness and redemption, but it all seemed a little too mannered and forced for my taste. Perhaps in the right hands, this story would be perfect, but I found it lacking in any real substance. It's not a bad tale, but not perfect.
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LibraryThing member callmecayce
A cute idea that's poorly executed. The plot was decent, but not great. The character descriptions were mediocre. I don't know what I was expecting, but this book definitely fell far short of expectations. Big disappointment. Talking mice tend to be pretty awesome (Redwall, anyone?) but not so in
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this book's case. Best for much younger children, I suppose.
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LibraryThing member hnebeker
This is a darling book and I found myself thinking about the characters as I went about my day. They are so well-developed and endearing. I look forward to reading it to a child one day to see if they have the same reaction. I found that I was so touch by the characters that I was sad when the
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story ended because I missed them. I think this would be a great book to read to a classroom over the course of a month or so. And the illustrations are beautiful.
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LibraryThing member PeterSinclair
Desperaux is a book about misfits. Each character stands out for some reason, and some are pathetic. Desperaux is a small mouse with big ears who doesn't do regular mouse things. Roscuro is a rat who is drawn to the light. Muggery Sow sees herself as a princess, but she is a poor dimwitted peasant,
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the king makes horrible laws that don't make sense, and Princess Pea has compassion for rodents. But each of these characters have redeeming values that make this a wonderful book. Desperaux is small, but valientlly rescues his love in the face of rats and a dark and perilous dungeon. Roscuro forsakes his rat nature to save the princess because he sees her inner beauty, Muggery is just as content being her father's little "princess" as she if she were a real princess. The King's idiotic decisions results of his undying love for his family, and the beautiful Princess Pea finds beauty in the most hideous creatures. In the end, it all works out, but certainly not in a fairytale way, in weirrd way that transcends the barriers between the classes.
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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.
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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.
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LibraryThing member Aldrea_Alien
This one has been taunting me ever since I rented the movie and watched it with my daughter.
The book, while wholly different to the movie (what with its different characters and alteration of side-plots), was equally as enjoyable. Enough for me to knock it off in a few hours, all the while
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convincing myself that I would read “just one more chapter”, after all, I kind of knew the ending. 270 pages later, and I’m putting a fully-read story back on the shelf.

I’d recommend this to anyone who’d like a quick, refreshing trip down a path with a lovely-written story about a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread.

A book I truly could not put down and can't wait to share with my daughter.
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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
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as a read aloud for younger students. The audio version of this story is gripping; I highly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member JNSelko
Another book you can read in class and there are no disturbances.
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
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being different and standing up for what you believe.
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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 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
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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.
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LibraryThing member michelleramos
This is a wonderful tale about a brave little mouse and his big journey. Desperaux is a different sort of mouse, he doesn't act like a mouse, he doesn't scamper, he can read and he even falls in love with a princess. On his adventure he meets a young servant girl, an evil rat and a wonderful,
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beautiful princess. He has a wonderful pure heart and he is full of courage, bravery and love.
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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
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convey conventional fairy tale themes of bravery and honesty with a sense of humor that will appeal to modern readers.
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LibraryThing member krau0098
I have read a number of DiCamillo books and loved most of them. I decided to read this book because my son got the movie and I was interested in reading the book before I saw it. It was a wonderful book!

This book tells the tale of three "people". Despereaux, a mouse that is too different to be
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accepted, whose path leads him to fall in love with a human princess. Despereaux is cast to darkness for his differences. The second person is Chiaroscuro, a rat who yearns for the light but makes his home in the dungeon. Then there is Miggery Sow (Mig), a girl whose leads a miserable life and will do anything to become a princess. All of their fates are intertwined.

This was a great story. DiCamillo, as usual, does a wonderful job of making the story come alive. She is just a great story-teller in the most classical sense. All of the characters are interesting and engaging. There are a number of morals reinforced through the story. It is a quick read for an adult, but well worth it. I really didn't find anything to complain about in this book.

Unlike "The Elephant's Magician" I think younger children could really get into this story. In fact I started reading it to my three year old son and he didn't want me to stop. I am pretty sure he doesn't understand all the different messages the story is delivering, but he can get into the story of a young mouse fighting for his Princess.

I think this is my favorite of all the DiCamillo books that I have read. People of all walks of life and ages should read this book. It is a wonderful story.
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Audie Award (Finalist — 2004)
Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Children's — 2006)
Mythopoeic Awards (Finalist — Children's Literature — 2004)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Nominee — Grades 3-5 — 2005)
Newbery Medal (Medal Winner — 2004)
Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Children's Literature — 2004)
Colorado Blue Spruce Award (Nominee — 2005, 2007)
Blue Hen Book Award (Winner — Middle Readers — 2005)
Mitten Award (Honor — 2003)
Land Of Enchantment Book Award (Winner — Young Adult — 2006)
Golden Archer Award (Nominee — Intermediate — 2005)
Volunteer State Book Award (Nominee — Grades 4-6 — 2006)
Maine Student Book Award (Winner — 2005)
Minnesota Book Awards (Finalist — Young Adult Literature — 2004)
Great Reads from Great Places (Minnesota — 2004)
Idaho Battle of the Books (Elementary — 2023)




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