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

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Brave mouse adventure a modern classic; great read-aloud.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 24 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 40 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.


What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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 p... Continue reading
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, t... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byvaldezinator January 18, 2021
Oh it was simply mind boggling, I can't wait to read it to my little brother who is just 4 years old, I have fallen in love with the characters, the story... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old January 11, 2020

Brave Mouse

This mouse goes on an adventure. He didn't know it, but he was an unusual mouse because he did everything against the mouse laws. This book taught me tha... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure and fairy tales

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