The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread



Brave mouse adventure a modern classic; great read-aloud.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

Exposes kids to a medieval setting and quest-style fairy tale. 

Positive messages

Follow your heart, no matter what society says. Fight for what you believe in. Stay true to yourself, even at great personal cost. Think outside the box

Positive role models

Despereaux is a misunderstood but endearing outcast who defies convention and suffers for his love. Princess Pea appreciates Despereaux desite her father's anti-rodent prejudice. Miggery Sow, a slow-witted, abused, partially deaf serving girl, holds on to her dreams of becoming a princess. 

Violence & scariness

Despereaux's tail is cut off with a kitchen knife, a girl's ears are boxed until they become misshapen and partially deaf. The rat and skeleton infested dungeon may be a bit much for sensitive younger readers.

Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Medal-wining​ The Tale of Despereaux is a thrilling story of a brave, giant-eared mouse in love with a human princess. By by directly addressing the reader, the author introduces many concepts to think and talk about. This book is an excellent read-aloud or discussion group book. It could be read to children as young as 6, but parents need to know there is some violence -- Despereaux's tail is cut off, and a girl's ears are boxed until she's partially deaf. This memorable book has the feel of a classic and was adapted for a movie, DS game, and a console game.

What's the story?

Listen, dear reader, to Kate DiCamillo, and you will hear of Despereaux Tilling, a half-sized mouse with giant ears who is "such the disappointment" to his mama because he won't act like other mice. He is sickly, faints at loud noises, loves music, bright light, and reading books. Worst of all, because he has fallen in love with a human princess named Pea, he talks to humans. For this transgression he is condemned by the other mice, including his own father, to be sent to the dungeon to be eaten by the rats. You will also, dear reader, hear of Roscuro the rat, who also loves light, but has a grudge against the princess. And of Miggery Sow, an abused, dimwitted, partially deaf serving girl who wishes to be a princess. And you will hear how the strange stories of these three outsiders intersect in a most unusual way. Reader, do you believe in happily ever after?

Is it any good?


Kate DiCamillo can do charming. Her debut novel, "Because of Winn-Dixie," was simple and enchanting. Despereaux's tale is more complex and stylized: The author directly addresses the reader throughout, and the hero disappears for nearly a hundred pages. But it has charm in buckets, perfectly matched by Timothy Ering's delightfully weird illustrations.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX hits the trifecta for a children's book: It makes a great read-alone, read-aloud, or reading group book. It's easy to read, despite its length and sometimes advanced vocabulary, and perfectly paced and plotted to hold a middle-grade reader's interest. The direct address makes it perfect for involving listeners in the reading. And that same way of talking to the reader allows the author to raise questions that would make for interesting literature group discussions.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about outsiders and the role they play in society. What other stories of brave and noble misfits can you think of?

  • Why are underdog tales so appealing?

  • What makes you root for this little mouse and his friends?

Book details

Author:Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator:Timothy Basil Ering
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Princesses and fairies, Adventures, Cats, dogs, and mice, Fairy tales, Friendship, Great boy role models, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:January 19, 2004
Number of pages:270
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

This review of The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byAvidreaders February 4, 2010
We are a household of avid readers. I read many genres, and would list reading as my most preferred recreation. Since I do have sensitive children, I try to pre-read many of the books they receive or that we buy for them. Let's see: rejection at birth, betrayal by family, rat-infested dark dungeon, weapon-wielding abduction of a little girl from her bed, rejection of another little girl by her mother and then she is sold by her father to an abusive household, .... Not a happy read by any of my standards. I don't get the appeal.
Parent of a 6 year old Written bybluebaker July 1, 2009

From start to finish, much darker than expected.

Our family, adults and children alike, had a hard time with this book and found that its gritty darkness was not nearly outweighed by the positives. Overall, themes such as betrayal, abandonment, abuse, mob vengance, and hopelessness made this book completely inappropriate for younger children, and unenjoyable for us. A more rewarding plot might have justified some of these issues for older readers, but unfortunately this was not the case.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Adult Written bymommynyc April 9, 2008


One of the worst books I have ever read to my children. The casual violence, including casual battering of a little girl, is stomach turning. Kate Di Camillo is the trendy favorite because she tries to make child abuse and abandonment the norm. It is not the norm, Kate, and it is not funny or entertaining.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Special Needs Guide