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The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

4.5 1064
by Kate DiCamillo

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A brave mouse, a covetous rat, a wishful serving girl, and a princess named Pea come together in Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Medal–winning tale.

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world


A brave mouse, a covetous rat, a wishful serving girl, and a princess named Pea come together in Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Medal–winning tale.

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other's lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out.
With black-and-white illustrations and a refreshed cover by Timothy Basil Ering.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal, this superbly suspenseful tale of a little mouse with big aspirations comes from Kate DiCamillo, author of another Newbery Honor book, Because of Winn-Dixie.

In lilting storytelling language reminiscent of fairy tales of old, DiCamillo spins the yarn of Despereaux Tilling, a literate mouse who lives by a different code and happens to fall in love with a real princess. Despereaux is anxious to profess his love, but when he tells his community of his dreams, he gets banished into the dark dungeon where mice never leave. Adjacent to Despereaux's dilemma is the story of a rat named Chiaroscuro, ruthless in personality and in love with making his way toward light. When these two characters eventually collide -- along with Miggery Sow, a down-and-out servant who aims to become a princess of her own -- the result is a heroic, surprising heartwarmer that brings families together, gives hope to underdogs everywhere, and teems with justice.

Outdoing herself with this simply told yet marvelously complex tale, DiCamillo provides readers with a hero to savor. Timothy Basil Ering's illustrations provide just the right personality to the text, which beckons to be read and reread, even aloud. One fanciful tale to sink your teeth into. Matt Warner

The New York Times
… a terrific, bravura performance. — Jerry Griswold
Publishers Weekly
The author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising here shifts gears, demonstrating her versatility while once again proving her genius for mining the universal themes of childhood. Her third novel calls to mind Henry Fielding's Tom Jones; DiCamillo's omniscient narrator assumes a similarly irreverent yet compassionate tone and also addresses readers directly. Despereaux, the diminutive mouse hero ("The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive"), cares not a whit for such mundane matters as scurrying or nibbling, and disappoints his family at every turn. When his sister tries to teach him to devour a book, for example ("This glue, here, is tasty, and the paper edges are crunchy and yummy, like so"), Despereaux discovers instead "a delicious and wonderful phrase: Once upon a time"-a discovery that will change his life. The author introduces all of the elements of the subtitle, masterfully linking them without overlap. A key factor unmentioned in the subtitle is a villainous rat, Chiaroscuro (dwelling in the darkness of the Princess's dungeon, but drawn to the light). Ering (The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone) brings an understated drama to the black-and-white illustrations that punctuate each chapter. His artwork conveys a respect for the characters even as they emit the wry humor of the narrator's voice. The teller of the tale roots for the hero and thus aligns himself with the audience: "Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform." In addition to these life lessons, the narrator also savors a pointer or two about language (after the use of the word "perfidy," the narrator asks, "Reader, do you know what `perfidy' means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure"). Reader, I will let you imagine, for now, how these witticisms of our omniscient narrator come into play; but I must tell you, you are in for a treat. Ages 7-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Despereaux is the smallest mouse in the castle, with the largest ears and the most romantic heart. He falls in love with the human Princess Pea and is banished to the dungeon by his fellow mice. Meanwhile, the rat Chiaroscuro falls in love with light. When he leaves the dungeon to pursue his love, he frightens the queen to death and ends up back where he started with a healthy grudge against Princess Pea. Out in the town, a girl the same age as the princess, named Miggery Sow, is sold into slavery by her father. She takes many nasty beatings but dreams of being a princess herself one day. All three stories entwine in the final part of the book in a satisfying and not surprisingly happy ending for nearly everyone. At times, DiCamillo's new fantasy novel is charming, by turns sad, sweet, and mildly scary. At other times, though, the conceit of the narrator addressing the reader directly wears thin. The characters are all well limned, although the princess is, perhaps, too perfect. The story's twists and intertwinings are all believable, but each character is given their own "book" within the novel, and the pacing is thrown off. First Despereaux's story is told to a point. Then Chiaroscuro's story is told to a point. Then Miggery's story is told to a point. Finally, they all come together. Although this story would make an excellent read aloud for the young, most young adults will likely feel that the narration is condescending. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2003, Candlewick, 272p,
— Timothy Capehart
Children's Literature
In 2000 Kate DiCamillo got the Newbery Honor award for Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, $5.99, ages 9-12), the story of a lonely young girl who finds sense of community because of a dog who discovers her. This year DiCamillo captured the Newbery itself with the help of an extraordinary character, Despereaux, the winning hero of The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread. He's a tiny mouse with a huge heart who loves a princess and would do anything for her. But he's not the only unique character, the book is divided between other remarkable personalities and their engaging stories. There's Roscuro, a dungeon-born rat who seeks light, Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who only wants to be listened to, and the Princess herself, who still grieves for her mother. Each character's desires, hopes and fears combine in this marvelous questing fantasy. This is a tale made for reading aloud and family enjoyment. If reading aloud is not your forte, there's a wonderful recording by Graeme Malcolm (Listening Library, $25.00, unabridged, 3 cassettes). 2003, Candlewick, Ages 8 to 12.
— Susie Wilde
School Library Journal
Gr 3 Up-A charming story of unlikely heroes whose destinies entwine to bring about a joyful resolution. Foremost is Despereaux, a diminutive mouse who, as depicted in Ering's pencil drawings, is one of the most endearing of his ilk ever to appear in children's books. His mother, who is French, declares him to be "such the disappointment" at his birth and the rest of his family seems to agree that he is very odd: his ears are too big and his eyes open far too soon and they all expect him to die quickly. Of course, he doesn't. Then there is the human Princess Pea, with whom Despereaux falls deeply (one might say desperately) in love. She appreciates him despite her father's prejudice against rodents. Next is Roscuro, a rat with an uncharacteristic love of light and soup. Both these predilections get him into trouble. And finally, there is Miggery Sow, a peasant girl so dim that she believes she can become a princess. With a masterful hand, DiCamillo weaves four story lines together in a witty, suspenseful narrative that begs to be read aloud. In her authorial asides, she hearkens back to literary traditions as old as those used by Henry Fielding. In her observations of the political machinations and follies of rodent and human societies, she reminds adult readers of George Orwell. But the unpredictable twists of plot, the fanciful characterizations, and the sweetness of tone are DiCamillo's own. This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun.-Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dear reader, light your lamp and listen to the tale of Despereaux, the last mouse born of Antoinette. Born with his eyes open and ears much too large, Despereaux seems destined for early death. A true Renaissance mouse, he can hear honey, read words, and appreciate fine music. But he cannot conform to the strictures of the mouse world. Rodents and humans don't mix, yet he falls in love with the Princess Pea, earning the wrath of all the mice in the castle. The melodramatic voice of the narrator glides through DiCamillo's entirely pleasing tale, at times addressing the reader directly, at others, moving the reader back and forward in time. Never does she abandon the reader in the dungeon with Despereaux, the dark-hearted rats, or the guard and fellow inmate, Gregory. And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining-or, at least, furry-armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama. (Fiction. 7-12)

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Tale of Despereaux Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse. A small mouse. The last mouse born to his parents and the only one of his litter to be born alive.

"Where are my babies?" said the exhausted mother when the ordeal was through. "Show to me my babies."

The father mouse held the one small mouse up high.

"There is only this one," he said. "The others are dead."

"Mon Dieu, just the one mouse baby?"

"Just the one. Will you name him?"

"All of that work for nothing," said the mother. She sighed. "It is so sad. It is such the disappointment." She was a French mouse who had arrived at the castle long ago in the luggage of a visiting French diplomat. "Disappointment" was one of her favorite words. She used it often.

"Will you name him?" repeated the father.

"Will I name him? Will I name him? Of course, I will name him, but he will only die like the others. Oh, so sad. Oh, such the tragedy."

The mouse mother held a handkerchief to her nose and then waved it in front of her face. She sniffed. "I will name him. Yes. I will name this mouse Despereaux, for all the sadness, for the many despairs in this place. Now, where is my mirror?"

Her husband handed her a small shard of mirror. The mouse mother, whose name was Antoinette, looked at her reflection and gasped aloud. "Toulèse," she said to one of her sons, "get for me my makeup bag. My eyes are a fright."

While Antoinette touched up her eye makeup, the mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed one golden finger on the little mouse.

The other, older mice children gathered around to stare at Despereaux.

"His ears are too big," said his sister Merlot. "Those are the biggest ears I've ever seen."

"Look," said a brother named Furlough, "his eyes are open. Pa, his eyes are open. They shouldn't be open."

It is true. Despereaux's eyes should not have been open. But they were. He was staring at the sun reflecting off his mother's mirror. The light was shining onto the ceiling in an oval of brilliance, and he was smiling up at the sight.

"There's something wrong with him," said the father. "Leave him alone."

Despereaux's brothers and sisters stepped back, away from the new mouse.

"This is the last," proclaimed Antoinette from her bed. "I will have no more mice babies. They are such the disappointment. They are hard on my beauty. They ruin, for me, my looks. This is the last one. No more."

"The last one," said the father. "And he'll be dead soon. He can't live. Not with his eyes open like that."

But, reader, he did live.

This is his story.


THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. Text copyright (c) 2006 by Kate DiCamillo. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.

Meet the Author

Kate DiCamillo lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is the author of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, a Newbery Honor book, and THE TIGER RISING, which was a National Book Award Finalist. Kate DiCamillo says, "A few years ago, my best friend’s son asked me if I would write a story for him. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I don’t normally write stories on command.’ ‘But this is a story that I know you would want to tell,’ he said. ‘It’s about an unlikely hero. He has exceptionally large ears.’ ‘What happens to this hero?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘That’s why I want you to write it down, so we can find out.’ Well, Luke Bailey, three years later, here is the story of what happened to your exceptionally large-eared, unlikely hero."

Timothy Basil Ering is the author and illustrator of THE STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE, and he also created the cover image and interior black-and-white drawings for 33 SNOWFISH by Adam Rapp. Of his inspiration for the illustrations in The TALE OF DESPEREAUX, he says, "My mother may have been a mouse in her past life, as I watched her save and help so many mice in our house while I was growing up. The illustrations I’ve done of Despereaux Tilling are, in a way, my tribute to her." Timothy Basil Ering’s artwork has appeared in books, magazines, theater sets, private murals, and fine art galleries.

Brief Biography

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
March 25, 1964
Place of Birth:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
B.A. in English, University of Florida at Gainesville, 1987

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The Tale of Despereaux 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1064 reviews.
Pete-Auzston More than 1 year ago
First off I am 23. I love to read but I really need a book to grab me or I'll just put it down. The Tale Of Despereaux was such an amazing book I gave it to my wife and told her she HAD to read it. I bought the hard back for our future children and now I just can't wait to read it to them! This book has everything! Adventure, Romance, Happy endings and Good fun. I really felt like I was in the book!
myheartswings More than 1 year ago
Through those nights I've felt alone, felt the walls closing in, felt like no one will ever understand me, I pick this up. I'm 16, and this book has helped me through so much I can't even begin to explain... All I can say is if you've ever felt alone, if you've ever felt those walls, if you've ever felt like no one will understand, then maybe, just maybe, a certain little Despereaux Tilling will raise his sewing needle and tell you a story. All you have to do is listen, dear Listener. And you will know.
Annibebe More than 1 year ago
I picked up this book and couldn't put it down. It was a nice easy read, but so well written and entertaining. I recommend it to everyone! Despereaux, the brave little mouse!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never read such a beautiful, pure book in my entire life. Some people may believe that this book is childish or boring just because the story appears so simple, but it really isn't! DiCamillo puts the story together in a way that I have never experienced, and I've read a lot of books! You will never find another book as adoringly wonderful as The Tale of Despereaux. I recommend this book to ages eight to one-hundred and eight.
enticed More than 1 year ago
This was a great book. The illustrations were wonderful, the story sweet. my daughter loved it too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm already a fan of Kate DiCamillo, but this story quickly became one of my favorites with its lovable and believable characters. This is an example of quality character development. It's hard not to fall in love with Despereaux! I love to use it in my elementary class as a way to get kids hooked into reading, as this is a book that keeps drawing you further and further in until you don't want to put it down! This is sure to become a timeless tale that everyone should own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was excellent. I look for newberry books cuz im 10 but this was amazing. Now im reading another newberry by kate dicamillo. The book is so interesting. It shows that everyone from a rat to a princess has a story. That is special.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could read this story over and over again it was my favorite book. My first time reading it was when i was 9. Me and my mom read it everyday and everynight!!! Any way to get to my point, i would strongly recomend this book if you are a reader who cant find things u like to read so just pick up any book :) I am one of those people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing book. Amazingly wonderful book. I couldn't stop reading it.
Purple-Wolf More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I read it in third grade and was dumfounded! It may be a long book, but I love the plot and story line. It follows a little mouse throught many adventures. He learns many things along the way back to his family again. He makes new friends and meets new enemys, but otherewise, greatest book in the world! Anyone who loves fantasy, medieval, and animals all in one book, this is just for you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book! So sweet i couldnt put it down. Loved it ALOT!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I <3 this book its really good Btw they made a movie out of it :) i have seen it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is absoutley the best book i haveever read. And im 11!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi. I am a teacher and I love reading. My student are in 5th grade, so I asked for a show of hands on who has read "The Tale of Despereaux". No one raised a hand. So I set them up a challenge. I handed each of them a copy of the book and their mouths dropped in amazement. Now these students are always saying tht they HATE reading. I said that the first one to finish got a prize. That motivated them. Five minutes later, a student raised their hand and said " All I know is that by reading the first paragraph I could tell this book is amazing. Once everyone finished, I asked them what they thought and they all said that it was the best story they had ever finished reading and that they would read it again. I read it before they did and I ABSOLUTLY LOVED it.
InTheBookcase More than 1 year ago
Have you ever thought that mice like to dream about fairy tales? You probably haven't, because mice don't do that. Except for one mouse in particular. Meet Despereaux Tilling. Right from his birth, everyone knew he was odd, especially with those huge ears, and his unusually tiny body. But a world needs at least one person--or mouse--to be different than the rest. Because of his oddities, Despereaux sees more, hears more, and knows more about the human world than any other mouse. All this helps him win the heart of the human Princess Pea, who lives in the castle. Also in this enchanting story you'll find other characters, all dreaming to have something they can't have, but wanting it more than anything. What can one tiny mouse with big ears do, to help everyone out? The only way to know is to read &quot;The Tale of Despereaux&quot;.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Despereaux , a brave little mouse has problems being a mouse. The little mouse wanted to be brave, wanted to be a gentlemen. Despereaux throughout the story breaks the mouse world rules and goes through the castle finding princess pea. From there he&rsquo;s wants to be the brave prince.  The mouse comes into some problems in the book. While Despereaux still wouldn't act like a mouse, he is thrown in the dungeon with rats. There, he meets a rat name roscuro which helps him stay alive and get out to save the princess.   This book is Appropriate for ages 6 and up.  I recommend this book for all kids who want a adventurous, and loaded with fun kinda book. This story is all you want adventure, thrill, and all sorts of things to make you put down everything and pick up this book!    Now at the end of the story, Despereaux jumps into save the princess and wins over all the rats! Now the Worker for Princess Pea, takes advantage of her dream and wears Pea&rsquo;s crown and gets treated like a real princess. Now, has everybody in the story as come to an ending point, Roscuro, the second to the main character, finally comes together with despereaux and gets aways from the other rats!    
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There a lot of lessons and i love the authors way with words. This book is a must-have.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read it you wont regret it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lately, it seems like all of my favorite books have been turned into movies: Ember, Twilight... even Narnia! Now I can add this movie into my collection when it comes out. If the movie is half as good as the book, EVERY one will like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even better than the movie. Although I will warmn you,there is one slighty bad word so you parents with younger children might want to go through and cross it out. I'm sorry I don't remember what page it was on. Great book btw.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is amazing, i loved it from beginnning to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So I read this book in class when I WAS IN 3rd GRADE!!!!So I'm perfectly fine!!!! Tootles!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been reading this book with my class at school and where aup to the last chapter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever! It is so cute and charming, but has some good adventure! I would really read this book if i were you! I rocommend it for sure!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I red this book in elementry school amd now... years later... i still remember every little detail. You should most definitly get this book !!!!!