Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Review - The Tale of Desperaux

The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In Junior NovelizationI added this book to our family bookshelf shortly after reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, just before (or as?) the movie version of The Tale of Desperaux was being released. I still haven't seen the movie (in talking with my kids, apparently they watched it one night, presumably while Lynette and I went out on an adult date). As I talked with my kids who have seen the movie (and one who has read the book), they all seemed to generally enjoy it.

This is only my second experience with Kate DiCamillo, but I thoroughly enjoy her writing style. This is definitely a children's book and the language and flow is super accessible to young readers. The narrative voice is very endearing, respectful, humorous and thoughtful. The book doesn't "talk down" to children but rather assumes children are smarter than often given credit for.

There are numerous points where the narration is very conversational...literally addressing sentences to the "Reader" for thought or mental comment. These breaks in the narration were quite effective. In other styles of books or other stories, these breaks may have been disjointing or fully pulled you out of the story. Yet for some reason in this book, it felt very natural and actually made the story feel more vibrant to me. I also really enjoyed the moments where the narrator indicates that the Reader may not know or be experienced with something (a word or an idea) and suggests that the Reader looks up the word or thinks about the concept...on the flipside, there were a couple of moments where the Narrator indicates that the Reader is likely very much aware of the concept and so there is no need for further narration about it. Again, I felt like this conversational style really helped draw the Reader into the story.

The story itself is cute and whimsical. It really ends up being multiple stories wrapped together. One of the concepts that the book points out is the fact that every action has a consequence and that many actions and consequences are linked together. Thus, we explicitly follow moments in the lives of three central characters: Desperaux the mouse, Roscuro the rat, and Mig the little girl. We're also given close attention to the king and the princess as well as other peripheral members of the story. I really enjoyed the moments where the Narrator makes clear the various overlaps and how the action of one character creates some ripples in the lives of other characters.

Even though the plot and the writing is fairly simplistic, I found that the book had some great learning opportunities and wonderful presentation of a variety of themes. As I already mentioned, it does a good job of showing the idea that every action has a consequence and that those consequences may affect not only the person responsible for the action, but other individuals as well. I also liked the exploration of Hope, Love, Loyalty and other emotions and concepts that are quite obscure not only to young children, but often to adults.

Overall, I really enjoyed this light hearted tale. It has great soul and a lot of depth. I can certainly recommend this to readers young and old. A definite delight!

4.5 out of 5 stars

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Brian Miller said...

nice. i am in the opposite boat...saw the movie but have not read...hmm...will check the library to correct that...

Okie said...

I am interested to know how the movie compares to the book.

The book was definitely a very "young" read...but I found it very enjoyable and endearing due mostly to the language and structure. I'm not sure if that language/tone/structure would translate well to the screen...and without it, I would worry that this would just be a somewhat average animal adventure fairy tale.

Phoenix said...

My boy and I read kid's books to each other at night when we're both tucked into bed - I think after reading your review I will definitely add this one to the list! Thanks Okie :)

leslie said...

wonderful review!

i absolutely adore DiCamillo's work. The Miraculous Journey makes me cry every time... a logical step after Tale of Desperaux is to read the Magician's Elephant.

Because of Winn Dixie is a great read and the film adaptation was very good. the adaptation of The Tale to film is much less true. I liked the Roscuro parts in the book and was less played in the film. And Mig is more to the book as well. I think the loss of the narrative style you so nicely remarked upon affected the film's ability to draw the same thematic conclusions you noted.

it's nice when both are good for their own qualities, I just remembered being surprised at some of the choices the film made in light of an excellent aspect of the book.

ah, but it has been a while. I would love to read a comparative between the two.