Book club: ‘The Tale of Despereaux’

ANNE FARRAR/THE WASHINGTON POST

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Ages 8 to 12.

In the castle where Despereaux Tilling lives, there is a great divide. On one side of a door there are delicious foods, music and light. The other side is the entryway to hunger, despair and darkness. In “The Tale of Despereaux,” it’s not hard to imagine which side of the dungeon door is preferred, but only after traveling into the darkness do the characters in Kate DiCamillo’s story truly appreciate the light.

Despereaux, a tiny mouse with huge ears, is a disappointment to his mouse family. Not only does he look strange, but his behavior is also extremely unmouselike. He doesn’t eat the pages of books; he reads them. He doesn’t scurry; he stops to stare at rays of light coming through the windows.

“Get your head out of the clouds, and hunt for crumbs,” his father yells.

One day Despereaux does the unforgivable: He speaks to a human, the beautiful Princess Pea.

The mouse community, including his family, banishes Despereaux to the dungeon, an extremely unsafe place for a mouse.

The dungeon is filled with rats, creatures that love the darkness and hate mice. But one rat, Roscuro, is an outsider, just like Despereaux. Instead of relishing the darkness, Roscuro seeks out light.

“Who cares about light?” asks fellow rat Botticelli. “We are about darkness. We are about suffering.”

Roscuro tries to act like a rat, but he is desperate to be surrounded by the light from upstairs. Following this desire causes problems not just for Roscuro but for everyone in the kingdom. That includes a poor, not-too-smart girl named Miggery Sow, whose single wish is to be a princess.

Despereaux, Roscuro and Mig — all three rejected by family and all three wanting something out of reach — cross paths in the dungeon. None of them wants to stay in the darkness, but the only means of escape is to find a tiny light inside themselves.

— Christina Barron

Next week:

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

By Charles de Lint. Ages 8 to 12.

Tanglewood Forest is home to strange creatures, including wild cats. Lillian, a girl who lives at the forest’s edge, is playing in the woods when she stops to rest. A snake bites her, and the cats come to her aid. When she awakens, Lillian has fur, paws and a tail. She wants her old self back, so she searches for magical help.

 
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