Most people who know me would say I'm fairly cynical. It's part of my charm. I prefer optimistically pessimistic, but whatever. So reading this adorable, heartwarming tale about a small, seemingly doomed from birth mouse and his love for a princess should have disgusted me, correct? Wrong.
The story is fairly complex, especially for a child reader. It has four interloping stories: 1) the tiny mouse Despereaux's quest to prove his love to Princess Pea; 2) the rotten rat Roscuro's plot to bring light into his life; 3) Princess Pea's loss of her mother; and 4) peasant Mig's dreams of becoming a real princess. The setting jumps all over the place as the narrator, speaking directly to the reader, attempts to tie all the pieces together to complete his story that begins and ends with Despereaux.
The novel definitely has the potential to take on an overwhelmingly cute tone as the adorable mouse, shunned by his family and the other mice surrounding him, falls for a human and yearns to be her knight in shining armor. He falls hard enough to declare that he "honors" her. Gross. But DiCamillo avoids creating an overly romantic, sorrowful plot because everything she weaves together is HILARIOUSLY DEPRESSING.
I love that the narrator points this out to the reader. He specifically tells the reader that love (and later forgiveness) is ridiculous. How great and true is that? I mean, sure he goes on to say that it's also wonderful and all the jazz, but to state outright that it's just a ridiculous concept is kind of refreshing to me, especially when love drives so many works of literature, children's especially. The other refreshing concept is Mig being ugly and remaining ugly with absolutely no moral lesson tied in about how the inside counts more than the outside. She's also sold by her father for a hen and a piece of red cloth which is just waaaaay too funny to me.
The Tale is also a great vocabulary book. Not only is it full of multi-syllabic words, the narrator directs the reader to look them up. It's practically screaming to be a part of a library lesson that involves the reference section.
To sum up, I'm cynical, this book is humorous and cynical while still promoting hope with a semi-happy ending, and the narrator encourages vocabulary building. What's not to love?