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I absolutely love The Tale of Despereaux, and similar to my review of The Little Prince, I am struggling to express just how important the tone and the phrasing of the language itself is to the story overall without simply including passages from the novel. There is something about the rhythm of di Camillo’s prose, her combination of wisdom and what I will call storybook meta-humor (a humorous awareness and acknowledgement of storybook conventions) that draws me into the novel each time I re-read it. The story itself seems deceptively simple: a mouse loves a princess, a rat wants revenge on the same princess, the rat manipulates a poor peasant girl to kidnap the princess and then the mouse must go down into the dungeon to save her. Yet the way that di Camillo turns her phrases is both beautiful and shrewd.
And I not only love di Camillo’s prose – I also love the complexity that di Camillo builds through the narrator’s commentary, defining and building empathy for both Roscuro, the princess’s revenge-bent captor, and Miggery Sow, the kidnapper’s accomplice. Di Camillo uses one of the stereotypical character types of children’s literature – the orphaned/abandoned child. Everyone from Charles Dickens to J.K. Rowling has written a Cinderella story, where the discarded and rejected child suffers great loneliness and physical hardship. But because two major aims of Children’s Literature is comfort the child reader and empower him or her, so that each reader feels capable of independently handling the challenges of the adult world, most Cinderella stories have happy endings. In her tale, however, di Camillo acknowledges that for Miggery Sow, there is no possibility of fulfilling her dream to become a princess. She is not a pure-hearted young princess-in-disguise, and her happily-ever-after is limited by the constraints of reality. Despite the whimsical storybook tone of the prose, it is through this and other elements of the story that di Camillo introduces more complex...

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