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On Our Bookshelves – The Tale of Despereaux

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NOVEL: The Tale of Despereaux

AUTHOR: Kate DiCamillo

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 2003

REVIEW:

I recently attended an event, sponsored by the Fairfield University Bookstore, with Kate DiCamillo giving a lecture about her work, promoting her new picture book, La La La, and signing books and meeting her young admirers. My daughter (age 11) and I were pleased to find ourselves in an auditorium full of students, parents, and teachers, all extremely enthusiastic about being in the presence of a much-adored author. I didn’t know much about Ms. DiCamillo prior to the event, and was pleasantly surprised with just how engaging and impressive she was. A two-time Newbery Medal winner (one of only six people to have that honor), she was smart, funny, self-deprecating, and above all, wonderful with, and respectful of, the children who came to see her. She spoke a bit about her writing process, her life, her childhood, her losses, the importance of storytelling, and her continual search for what she called “radiant connections,” which, as best as I can describe them, are moments of grace, beauty, illumination, and communication, and which are the true subjects of her work.

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We loved La La La, and its beautiful illustrations, and bought two copies for two of our favorite three year olds. And we brought along with us an old paperback copy of The Tale of Despereaux, my older daughter’s favorite. We were fortunate enough to get to hear its origin story: Ms. DiCamillo’s friend’s young son had asked her to write a story about an unlikely hero with big ears…and she thought of a mouse. The rest, as they say, was history, and Despereaux is now beloved by children far and wide.

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The author was patient, answered questions and took them seriously, and although it was getting late and it was a school night, we were sufficiently charmed to stay for the opportunity to get our books signed. It took a while. The bookstore employees did their best to keep things organized, and had the individual names written out on Post-Its and placed on the title pages, and lined us up, row by row. The line moved quite slowly, and as we neared the author table, I saw exactly why that was. She made a point of greeting and speaking to each of her young fans individually, posed for photographs, signed multiple books, and generally continued to be impressive. (I actually rather wish she’d move into my neighborhood and be my new best friend.) When it was, at long last, our turn to meet Ms. DiCamillo, I admitted that I’d never read any of her books before, but I promised to remedy that. And, so I did. (I keep my promises, especially when potential new best friends are involved.)

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Promising (again, I do keep my promises) to take good care of the now precious autographed copy of The Tale of Despereaux, I read it the very next day. (It didn’t take long.) It’s a wonderful story; kudos to the committee that recognized and honored it. The unlikely hero with big ears is a tremendous protagonist, and we are soon told (via one of many wonderful authorial asides), “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.” And Despereaux doesn’t conform, being interested in reading books (as opposed to eating them), being brave, appreciating music, and falling in love with a human princess. The unlikely hero, it turns out, is just as charming as his creator. What’s more, he’s resourceful, forgiving, kind, generous, and a true friend. It’s a lovely, heartening story about light, the important things in life, adventure, family, and the goodness of soup. Reader, take up this book and find some radiant connection. If you can read it to a child, all the better.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com.

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Book Jacket Courtesy of Scholastic

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