Sunday, December 7, 2008

a little mouse with a big heart

I was recently reminded that this holiday season Universal will be releasing the animated movie The Tale of Despereaux. I read the book (a Newbery award winner) for the first time in January; i kept meaning to write about it, but that post just slipped through the cracks. I do want to tell all of you that you should definitely read it before the movie comes out; the movie looks good (i intend on going to see it), but as you would expect it looks a bit lighter, more simplistic and far more straightforward than the book, cutting all of the subtlety and non-holiday-fare parts.
Come to think of it, everyone should read this book whether they are planning on seeing the movie or not. Not only is it my favorite that i've read so far this year, i think it might be among my favorites of all time. The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate Dicamillo is a modern fairy tale and like the fairy tales of yore it is pretty dark, scary and bloody in parts. It doesn't shy away from the harsher parts of life : when people die they don't come back and their death affects those around them; there are consequences - good and bad - to every one's actions; the world is never exactly how you want it to be and neither are the people that inhabit it.
The author writes as a storyteller; that is, she speaks to the reader and acknowledges that this is a story she is telling you. I really liked her voice and the overall tone of it. It was by turns funny and heartbreaking; I laughed out loud even on the second and third read (the third time was Friday during lunch and then on the van ride home), teared up in places and outright cried twice.
Like some of my other favorite books it is non-linear, written with jump backs to get you caught up on different characters' lives until they intersect. It is a super-quick read and would be a great book to read aloud. The plot (like all fairy tales really) is nonsensical with a sickly runt of a mouse falling in love with a princess, but it really comes through in the philosophy department.
What does it mean to be good or evil?
If a good person does something society doesn't like does that make them evil?
Is evil born in you, grown in you or both?
If you have done evil things can you ever not be evil?
How do you react when people or events hurt you?
 How does pain change you?
How do you find hope?
 Is there such a thing as happily ever after?
It is painful in parts, but overall uplifting (much like life, no?). Intended for the 8-12 year old crowd you can see the morals that it is trying to convey, but as a 37 year old reading it i saw more the lessons i have already learned echoed in a beautiful, poignant way. I really think that an adult with some life behind them can appreciate it in a way that a kid couldn't.
I'll admit that part of the reason i really, really, really liked the book was that it was unbelievably timely; i read it when i was personally struggling with one of the major themes of the book. But i truly believe that if you have ever been in love, if you have ever been in love with someone you can't have, if you have ever been betrayed, if you have ever betrayed anyone, if you have ever felt different, if you have ever hoped, if you have ever wished for more than you've been given, if you have ever been compelled to action, if you have ever grieved, if you have ever listened to your inner voice, if you have ever wished you had the courage to listen to your inner voice, if you have ever pushed yourself past exhaustion and fear because you've had no other choice, if you have ever been forgiven, if you have ever had to find forgiveness even when you didn't want to, if you have ever loved soup, if you have ever loved fairy tales, or if you have ever had a thing for little mice with big ears, this is the book for you.


Megan said...

With a great review like that - how could I not read it. I will pick it up soon!

Kaaren said...

I have been meaning to read this one. I read "Because of Winn Dixie" by her last year and kept meaning to pick this one up. I'll have to put it in the "huge" pile o' books I want to read.

Kathy said...

This goes on my list also. Thanks for the review, I would have passed right by it. Now I can't wait to read it.

Rachel said...

I love soup! So, when I looked at this entry today, I first thought I was at the wrong blog. Another friend of mine, a children's librarian, has a blog on children's books. This would fit right in! lol