Newbery Project #10: 2004’s The Tale of Despereaux

despereaux

We’ve reached what I consider to be the first (in reverse chronological order, of course) of the modern classics of Newbery. There are a couple Newbery’s after this one that I dearly, dearly love (namely, When You Reach Me), but I don’t think any of them are as widely-read and referenced as Despereaux. It’s also the first of the project to be made into a movie. We all know Despereaux.

So it’s really hard to write about a book like this! I’ll keep it to my favorite thing about this book: it was clearly written to be read aloud. Of the 4 or 5 times I’ve read Despereaux, I’ve only read it to myself once. All the other times has been out loud to my class. There is a lyricality to the writing that you don’t quite get when you read it at inside-your-head reading speed. Plus, DiCamillo’s asides to the reader just make more sense when read to a room full of eager ears. The characters are so well-painted they lend themselves to voices even for people like me who normally don’t read aloud with different voices.

The only problem I run into is I actually have no idea how to pronounce perfidy. Do you stress the first syllable or the second? (I finally just Googled it, it’s the first syllable.)

And I love the classic fantasy all-roads-lead-to-the-castle, where we get to see all the different paths Despereaux, Roschuro, and Miggery Sow take. I love the Greek chorus of other mice (especially his mother) that constantly remind us of our hero’s predicament. It’s a perfect amalgamation of classic elements that come together in a classic story. Good job, Newbery committee!

Would kids like it? Kids love this book. It’s a fairy tale, it’s about animals, it’s an underdog story. Classic.

Are there “funny bits”? A little bit! Nothing laugh-out-loud, but when DiCamillo speaks directly to the reader there’s a tongue-in-cheek-ness to it, and the voices of Roschuro and Miggery Sow are tinged with humor.

Do I understand why it won? Totally. This had Newbery written all over it. Just the writing itself is magical, and the multiple perspectives and complicated timeline is masterful in a way awards committees can’t overlook.

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