The last modern book that I’m reading from the Top 100 Chapter Books list is The Tale of Despereaux (2003) by Kate DiCamillo. It was originally released with a very long subtitle–Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread–that seems to have been lost with time. The subtitle isn’t even mentioned in Wikipedia or on DiCamillo’s own webpage.
What it’s about: If you happen to get a copy with the subtitle intact, you will automatically know at least some of what this book is about. Despereaux Tilling is a very tiny mouse, born to a French mama in a castle, home to a Princess who lost her mother when a rat fell into her soup and gave her a heart attack. The King subsequently hates rats, bans soup, and makes the castle a rather gloomy place. Also in the castle are rats, a dungeon, and servants, some of whom really miss soup.
Age level: Grades 2-4
Best part: I love how Despereaux can read and is therefore the kindest, gentlest, and most loving of the mice.
Worst part: I just didn’t really like the way things went for Miggery Sow, the servant girl who used to be a slave, sold by her own father for a tablecloth and some other odds and ends. She is made ugly and deaf by repeated hits upside the head but I don’t see why this had to make her dumb and mean. She is somewhat redeemed by the end but even that was a mixed blessing as she ends up back with the father who sold her.
I thought the book was okay but there was a certain something that was missing, perhaps because the story moves focus between the various characters and so you never get to know any of them very well. Still, there are a lot of good morals to pull out of the story and I think a teacher could really bring the story to life in a classroom.
I am so excited to be reading Pippi Longstocking again! The last time I read it was when Z was a preschooler. Since I’ll be pulling out my big collection volume, I might read more than just the first story.