The Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo, published 2003
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.”
Once again, Hollywood created something before I had a chance to read the original children’s book, but luckily, I don’t go to movies much. If you have a child who has not seen the movie Despereaux, please, give them a chance to imagine it for themselves first! There is so much humor and wisdom in the pages of this well-written children’s book that are impossible to capture in a movie, and would be a shame to miss.
I love the way the author keeps speaking to the reader, urging them on, encouraging them to look up unfamiliar words, playing with language, and most of all, making a sublime point about the need for light in a world, and the power of love to overcome evil. This book is no lightweight cartoon book. Indeed, it is actually a little challenging to read, because the author does not shrink from the darkness in the book. That was the most difficult part for me.. being in the dungeon, I kept wanting to shut the book and move on. But the heroic characters and the play about light was compelling enough to stay with it.
In the end, the book is mostly like a contemporary fairy-tale, very well done, with humor, lessons, challenges, and a great writing style. Because of the scary element of the rats, dungeons, and dead people, I recommend this as a children’s book for 9 to 12-year-olds, though I suppose a mature 8-year-old might be okay with it.