Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo


“They say he was born with his eyes open. Some of the mice pulled away from Despereaux in disgust, and others, thrill seekers, reached out to touch him with a whisker or a paw.”

Why is this sentence so memorable, why is it so powerful? I think two words are the strength of this section – thrill and whisker. All the writing in the Tale of Despereaux gives the sensation of words as jewels, sparkling on the page.

Here is another lovely example :
“The mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed one golden finger on the little mouse.”

And now we have the movie. I have such mixed feelings when a loved children’s book is made into a movie. I fear that the lovely words might be lost. I have not yet seen the movie of Despereaux by Kate Di Camillo because I wanted to re-read this beautifully written tale of heroism, mice, rats, princesses and soup. I was not disappointed by the book.

I have loved the writing of Kate DiCamillo for years since reading Because of Winn Dixie and The Tiger Rising. Both of these books are certainly in my top twenty all time favourites list. The Tale of Despereaux is such a different genre from these two but it is equally powerful and important.

My other fear about children’s books made into movies it that parents and children will not know there ever was a book in the first place. Many people do not know Dick King Smith wrote a simple little tale called The sheep pig but they have seen the movie Babe. Talking to some mums recently I discovered they were not aware Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg along with The Polar Express are also marvelous books.

Yet despite these fears I also avidly seek movies from books. Recently I saw I was a Rat by Phillip Pullman listed in a television guide and in Google videos I discovered a movie of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey (see previous blog entry) which looks fabulous and another of Westlandia by Paul Fleischman.

One of my favourite cultural experiences in recent years is attending Little Big Shots, the film festival for children. It only runs for a few days but there are so many amazing films including many based on children’s books.

I will leave these blog musings with another quote from The Tale of Despereaux as an example of the fine language.

(The king bent over) to look more closely at Despereaux, one ear, two tears, three enormous king-sized tears fell with an audible plop onto Despereaux’s head and rolled down his back, washing away the white of the flour and revealing his own brown fur. ‘Sir. Most Very Honored Head Person, sir.’ said Despereaux as he wiped the kings tears out of his own, ‘She’s in the dungeon.’”.

If you are looking for other mouse or rat heroes you might try Poppy by Avi and all the great sequels and Time stops for no mouse by Michael Hoeye and the sequels these, like Despereaux, are books I would love to get into the hands of all children.

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