Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 9th 2008 by Candlewick Press
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.
If somebody had tried to tell me a month ago that one of my favourite books read in 2012 would have a little mouse as its protagonist, I would have laughed. I am not big on anthropomorphic characters. I mean, except cats that appear as characters. Those I love but mice and other talking things? Yeah, no, not my thing at all. However, Despereaux calls to mind something warm, something soft, defenseless. Like one of those pictures of kittens that are so plentiful on tumblr. How do you resist?
Anyway, the story itself is so heartwarming, so unassuming and so guileless that I couldn’t help but be swept away by the heroic quest of one of the least heroic characters I have ever come across in my reading career. Knowing that it is impossible for him and attempting to rescue the princess anyway? That is courage, people. No matter how flashy and beautiful The Invention of Hugo Cabret may have been, I think The Tale of Despereaux wins simply on account of how beautiful the story is. No, no one has been comparing the two, it’s just me.
I urge you to read this for yourself and if you have a child in your life, read it out loud to them. Watch the wonder in their eyes as they follow the adventures of one poor mouse who is condemned at birth and who even loses his tail. Watch them react to the horrible rats, especially the irascible villain of the piece who walks around with a spoon as a hat. This is a beautiful book, a classic really, and should find a home on your shelf in all its illustrated glory. Strongly recommended.