This was a book I was sure I had read, because I feel like it’s been around forever. Nope! 2003. (Maybe I saw the movie in 2008?) It feels like an older book as well. So if the author was going for a classic feel, she got it! There is the story, but sometimes the author asks questions of the reader, often with vocabulary. Good for reading with a group!
The book is set up in four sections. In the first part, we meet Despereaux, a very small mouse with very large ears. He is marked as different from his birth, because he is born with his eyes open, something that has never happened before. Moving forward, Despereaux is obviously a little different, and does not act like a mouse should. He is entranced by light and music, and would prefer to read a book rather than eat it. (Here is my big complaint for this book. Despeareaux can magically read! The squiggles on the page become letters that he just knows how to read. Nope! I feel that even in a fantasy world, reading must be learned in some fashion or another. It’s even a plot point or a class distinction in many, many books. Having another language magically turn into something you can understand is one thing, but suddenly knowing how to read out of nowhere? Not having it!) Despeareaux also meets the King and Princess Pea, and breaks the cardinal mouse rules of being noticed by humans. Not only does he meet them, he allows Princess Pea to touch him, and he talks to them! (It is a rule that mice should not talk to humans, but no one is really all that shocked.)
In the next section, we travel back in time a bit to meet Chiaroscuro, or Roscuro, a rat. We follow his villains journey, and we find that he wasn’t always an evil rat. He had other dreams, but he was led down the path of villainy. If not for one instance, we would have had a very different story, and a very different rat.
We meet Miggory Sow in the third section. She is a rather simple girl who is really a victim in all this.
(We don’t know all the particulars, but putting a broad label of “special needs” would not be out of place here.) She is mentally beat down and physically beaten all her life, and is a bit deaf because of it. She has trouble understanding things, but tries her best. She has never been shown kindness and has never been given consideration. When one is only shown wickedness and hate, those things become the norm. She has a rather naive dream of becoming a princess, and will believe whatever she is told.
The fourth section goes into the wickedness and evil plot and eventual resolution. There are many things to discuss with a group of children after the book is done. There are a lot of “What If’s” that could be asked. At what point could Miggory Sow’s life changed? How would Roscuro’s life been different if not for the soup? Did Roscuro get what he deserved? And there is the movie, which changes the story, so that could be up for discussion as well. And after reading and writing this review, I think I’ll try to use this book as a middle grade book club pick for my library!
This fulfills the CBR11 Bingo square of “Award Winner” as it won the Newberry Award in 2004.
Bingo count: 1 (Far right column)