Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Tale Of Despereaux

Book Zombie and Care want to know: What made you choose this book now?

The Tale Of Despereaux is the book we're reading for the August 10th BOOKLEAVES meeting. (If you just happen to be in Seoul, you can go with me! Leave a comment.) TOD was suggested by a new member who said it was "the book" when he subbed at a middle school in the United States a couple of years ago.

Book Zombie wants the 6 word review: Plucky little mouse saves the day.

Jennie and Book Chronicle both want to know: Does this book live up to the hype?

It's obvious why teachers, children's librarians and parents have embraced this book. It's a wholesome tale of adventure with a misunderstood, yet noble animal protagonist. There is some darkness, but it's served up in a benign enough fashion along with a few new vocabulary words. Also attractive to these educator types is a narrator who is constantly engaging readers and encouraging them to use those higher level thinking skills to ponder the action. The ending is wrapped up neatly, sweetly and inoffensively with a whiff of a moral. Sometimes I think DiCamillo is guilty of trying too hard to please this adult set.

Melissa and Tiny Little Librarian want to know if I found the book compelling or annoying. And what about that narration?

I'd really love to test-drive The Tale Of Despereaux with someone between the ages of 7 and 12, so I could get some badly needed input. The storyline is charming, if a little awkwardly told, but the narrator constantly talking to the reader gives the book a claustrophobic feel -- it's like someone is right in your face chattering while you're trying to build images in your mind. Also perhaps there was a little too much telling rather than showing. What really annoyed me was that DiCamillo makes such a big production of trotting out a new vocabulary word, then discussing it. She even tells the reader to go look up a word in the dictionary. At that point, the reek of teacher breath was overpowering; I muttered a two-word imperative that you'll never see in a children's book and would have me missing recess for a month. E.B. White knew that you didn't have to attach a bunch of bells and whistles to new vocabulary. Just serve it up like a tennis ball and most of the time, kids will deftly smash it right back over the net at top speed.

Book Chronicle wants to know: Where do you think this fits with the history of children's literature?

Since The Tale Of Despereaux won the Newbery, it has been assured a place in children's lit history, and if the movie is well-made and commercially successful, it will solidify the book's good reputation and help it to stay popular for many years.

Tasses asks: Have you seen or read Because Of Winn-Dixie [also by Kate DiCamillo]?

No, but I'm curious about it now. The book, that is. My son told me that the movie blows chunks. (Or some sort of lofty film criticism to that effect.)

Karin asks: With the movie coming out soon, do you think The Tale Of Despereaux will transfer to the big screen while keeping the quality of the story?

Unless the people in charge of the movie version are total morons, there's no reason why this couldn't be a warm and enjoyable family movie. They've actually got an excellent opportunity to improve on the book by trimming down the narration.


raidergirl3 said...

I read it, loved it, and ran out to buy a copy for myself and my kids. Then I showed it to my 8 year old and she said bfft. So I started to read it to her one night, and by chapter 3 she was in, hook, line and sinker. She then raced through it ahead of me because she couldn't put it down.

She loved the way the author spoke to the reader, and made a little squeak every time 'reader' was invoked. It added another element for her to wait for. We also love saying 'Gor!' now.

Great review, love the 6 word review.

Bybee said...

This is exactly why I need to borrow an elementary school kid!

Anonymous said...

great post! I chuckled alltheway thru!

I found a website where kids reviewed books and it was almost charming. (sorry - I have no idea where I was...)

Anonymous said...

Great review, thanks very much. I'm always on the hunt for great children's books and have recently discovered Bayard and their series of StoryBoxBooks, AdventureBoxBooks, DiscoveryBoxBooks They have work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury appearing in the Storybox series for September. In addition to this, they also have some great activities for rainy days:,, Enjoy!

Amy said...

I have read Winn Dixie by this author but not TOD. I look forward to reading it though.

PS. I nominated you for a award on my blog.

Amy said...

Sorry, of course I meant I nominated you for *an* award. Sorry.

Robin said...

I read it to my 28 second graders this year (8 year olds) and they loved it. Me, too!

Anonymous said...

It's a wonderful book; thanks for posting about it here!

Bookfool said...

I love Despereaux. Elementary-school kids are often best borrowed and returned. Kidding, kidding. I loved having little ones. I actually sometimes miss having little ones. Never thought I'd say that.

Kim said...

Thanks for visiting my blog last week! I just stopped by to let you know that I have answered the question you left for me.

Unknown said...

I basically in complete agreement with you about TOD. Younger kids enjoy it, but my 6th and 7th graders are usually put of by it because it's about a talking mouse. They feel they are too old for such a story. Could be that they are not yet old enough.

I highly recommend Because of Winn-Dixie the book.

Gentle Reader said...

My 9-year-old had it read to him in school in 2nd grade, and he loved it! We have another of her books ready to go, I think it's called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane...

Susan said...

uh oh, never heard of this book, but my daughter might like it. She's only 5....could be a birthday present. I'll let you know... Love the 'blows chunks' film review. I can never figure out if this means good or bad when my son says it, either, does it mean it explodes with good, or is it so bad it's nauseating/ makes you throw up?? my literal mind cannot decipher that expression!!! and no way am I going to shame myself in front of my 19 year old by asking him, he already thinks I'm as ancient as a dinosaur!! Love your review, Susan!