“It is such the disappointment," says the mouse mother, Antoinette, upon learning that all of her newborn litter of babies has died, save one. Despereaux, his mother names him, for all the sadness and despairs in the castle where the mice live. Despereaux Tilling is a ridiculously small mouse with huge ears. He’s sickly. He faints at loud noises. He cannot learn to scurry. And on the day his sister, Merlot, brings him to the castle library to nibble on the book pages there, something remarkable happens. Looking down at the squiggles on the page of a book of fairy tales, Despereaux finds he can read the lovely words. They say, "Once upon a time." And then Despereuax encounters the beautiful Princess Pea, a human girl. He falls in love with her, breaking one of the most basic and elemental mouse rules: Do not ever, under any circumstances, reveal yourself to humans. He lets Princess Pea see him. He even speaks to her, declaiming, "My name is Despereaux. I honor you." And that, dear reader, leads to his downfall. The Mouse Council sentences him to be banished to the dark, fearsome dungeon, where he is delivered, wearing the red thread of death, to be finished off by the rats. Will he die? As the narrator says, “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” The novel is divided into four interconnected books about nonconformers: Despereaux; a rat named Chiarascurro, called Roscuro, born in the dungeon, who yearns to see the light upstairs; Miggery Sow, an unfortunate servant girl who will do anything to be a princess, and, of course, the kindly Princess Pea.
You’ll want to use this most magnificent and unforgettable Newbery Medal winner for reading aloud at home or for book discussion groups. You can, for instance, ponder the author's statement: "Every action, reader, has a consequence." What are the consequences of the different characters' actions in the story? Think of an important action you have taken and describe its consequences.
Reviewed by JF.
Themes: FANTASY. MICE. NEWBERY MEDAL. PRINCES AND PRINCESSES.
Suggested Ages: 9 and Up