Put down your soup spoon, Dear Reader, and pick up The Tale of Despereaux as quickly as possible.
Stories this good just don't come around very often, and more particularly, Newbery Medal books this good don't come around very often, especially these days. It's well-known that Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) is an excellent storyteller, but she's excelled herself here.
At first, the story is kind of weird. A young mouse with too-large ears falls in love with a beautiful human princess? Rest assured that things don't turn out half as strange as they might. But rest assured also that this is a story of the utmost hilarity, the utmost tenderness, and the utmost kindness in the face of darkness and evil.
Things happen quickly in the Kingdom of Dor: a rat is responsible for killing Queen Rosemary and ends up banished; Despereaux is banished and ends up on a Quest; Miggery Sow is on a quest to become a princess and ends up thwarting the rat's evil scheme (inadvertently, of course). Ultimately, this is a story about repentance, forgiveness, honor, and selflessness as exhibited by everyone from an outcast mouse to an outcast rat to an outcast human to the King of the realm.
The Tale of Despereaux is an adventure story set in a fantasy realm that helps us understand ourselves and others better. But (and this is important), it's also wildly funny. DiCamillo crafts her sentences as deftly as E. B. White, infusing most of them with careful wording that can make readers laugh out loud.
Sentences that aren't hilarious, though, are thoughtful and tender. Not content to just churn out drivel, DiCamillo has written a novel that causes readers (both adults and children) to look outside themselves, and to value light over darkness.
It's easy to dismiss most recent Newbery Medal winners right off the bat before even reading them. With so much children's literature eschewing anything like Christian values and holding up humanism, godlessness, and bratty kids as the preferred norm, one like The Tale of Despereaux tilts the boat in the other direction. We're thankful for it, and we can only hope more books like this one will be made available to young readers and their parents alike.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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