Tag Archives: mice

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

YES!!! Finally, the pile of books this author set out to review last year is DONE!!! Whoo-hoo!

Sorry to take so long to get here, readers. But with one thing and another, yours truly ended up going through these various analyses at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, that will be avoidable it in the future – but since life happens, we will have to wait and see how that goes. The important thing is that this particular novel is now on the table for discussion. Yay! 😀

It has been some time since I read The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, in full. However, that has not dimmed my love for this wonderful book. Despereaux is one of the best children’s stories ever written. Ms. DiCamillo is a truly good writer who is well-respected in the field, as shown by Dean Koontz’ many allusions to her novels (including this one) in his stories. They appear to agree on many things and seem to see life through a similar lens, which means that if you like the one, you may enjoy the other.

That being said, it is not a guarantee. DiCamillo writes for children, middle graders on up to high school level. Her focus isn’t on horror, though there is an undercurrent of dread in many of her novels. For the most part, she deals in fairy tales, though hers are different from the originals in many ways. The Tale of Despereaux is, as we shall see, a good example of this…

Within the walls of a castle in a far away land, Despereaux Tilling is the only surviving mouse in his litter. Born to Antoinette and Lester Tilling, the rest of his litter died at birth. Disappointed by this and how the stresses of giving birth keep ruining her beauty, Antoinette declares she will have no more babies. Staring at Despereaux, Lester Tilling sighs and states that he will be the last and that he will die soon, just like the others.

The reason he says this? Despereaux is an unnaturally small mouse. With the exception of his ears, this infant mouse is extremely tiny. But his ears are huge, much like Dumbo’s were. More disturbing to his father, this last son was born with his eyes open. On top of this, instead of dying, the little mouse lives. Though he hardly grows any bigger and becomes ill easily, Despereaux keeps on living happily in the castle.

Others, however, are not pleased with the youngest of the Tilling offspring. This is due almost entirely to the fact that Despereaux does not act at all like a proper mouse. He does not scurry, search for crumbs, or fear anything or anyone within the castle. Instead he stares at light streaming through the windows and listens to a music none of the other mice seem to hear.

And then things go from bad to worse. Despereaux learns to read in lew of chewing up and eating the glue in the books in the castle library. How he learns is a mystery; when his older sister takes him to the library to start chewing up the books, Despereaux looks at the open volume she wants him to start on and read the first line aloud.

He finds the story in the book enthralling.  It is about a knight rescuing a fair princess and goes back to read it every single day after his older siblings give up trying to teach him how to be a proper mouse. Although this is decidedly odd behavior for a mouse, his family leaves him to it. This allows him to spend the hours he is not reading exploring the world of the castle or staring at light streaming through windows.

In between readings and wanderings, Despereaux discovers the sound he is hearing is music. The music is played by the king for his daughter, the Princess Pea. Going to a crack in the wall of her room, Despereaux listens to the music from the hole. Then he sticks his head through the hole. Then his front legs, and so on, until he is right in the room at the foot of the king, where the princess sees him.

And then something amazing, wonderful, and utterly ridiculous happens. Despereaux falls in love with the princess. (Yes, he does. Really.)

Now the Princess Pea has her own story. A few years ago her mother died. This was due to shock. Arat, Chiaroscuro (Roscuro for short), from the castle dungeon snuck into the chandelier above the banquet hall and accidentally fell in the queen’s soup. Seeing him, the queen was so astonished that she could only say, “There is a rat in my soup,” before fainting and falling face first into said soup. That is where she died.

Following this sad event, the king outlawed rats, soup, and spoons to assuage his grief. His and the castle staff’s only solace now is the Princess Pea, to whom the king is singing and with whom Despereaux has fallen in love. Pea wants to have soup back in the kingdom just like everyone else, but she is still too sad over her mother’s death to do anything about changing her father’s mind in that regard at the moment.

Meanwhile, stuck in the dungeon below the castle, Roscuro is plotting his revenge on the princess for having him banished. Unlike most rats, Roscuro has a great love of light and beauty. Seeing the princess glaring at him after her mother’s death broke his heart, and now he wants to get back at her and everyone else in the castle.

What does all of this have to do with poor Despereaux? Unknown to him, he has not met the princess unobserved. One of his older brothers sees the princess touch Despereaux on the nose. Convinced he is, at least, a goner, this brother reports everything he has witnessed to the council of mice that run the mouse community in the castle.

They are not happy that the little mouse has been seen. Part of this is for practical reasons – if the palace staff starts seeing too many mice around, or the king gets upset about seeing a mouse, the entire community will be chased out of the castle or banished to the dungeon with the rats. But most of the reason the council is unhappy is because mice do not fraternize with humans; it “simply isn’t done.”

So now you can imagine how they react to Despereaux’s declaration of undying love for the Princess Pea, can’t you, readers?

Ah, ah, ah! Those are all the spoilers that you are going to get! I’ve given too much of the story away as it is. If you want to know more, borrow or buy The Tale of Despereaux today. Worth its purchase price many times over, this is a book no shelf should be lacking!

Until next time. 😉

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Book Review: The Rescuers by Margery Sharp

Hello again, readers! This post is about a book by Miss Margery Sharp called The Rescuers. Now, any of you who are remotely familiar with Disney films will probably recognize the title. Disney made two movies featuring the famous Rescuing mice Miss Bianca and Bernard: The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. (The latter was my favorite of the two.)

These animated features were based on Margery Sharp’s books. But beyond the Prisoners’ Aid Society, Bernard, and Miss Bianca, there is not much that the books and the films have in common.

In the films, Miss Bianca and Bernard both work for the Prisoners’ Aid Society from the get-go. In the books, this is not so. Bernard certainly is part of the Prisoners’ Aid Society at the start of the novel. He even has a medal for “Gallantry in the Face of Cats”!

But in the books, Miss Bianca is the pet of the Ambassador’s son. She lives in a cage, inside a Porcelain Pagoda, and is waited on hand and paw. And she has no fear of cats!!!

Now, the premise of the book The Rescuers is this: the Madam Chairwoman of the Prisoners’ Aid Society branch in (presumably) England has heard about a certain political prisoner being held in a terrible, horrible place called the Black Castle. This particular prison is infamous even among mice. The assembled mice all shiver and shudder at the very name of it. Only one mouse ever got in and out of the Black Castle, and he is now a very old fellow well out of his prime.

This particular political prisoner is Norwegian, and he is a poet. All this sounds very sad to the mice, until Madam Chairwoman drops a bombshell on them. She does not want to send someone to the Black Castle to be the Norwegian poet’s companion and comfort in his suffering. No, she wants to send at least two mice to the Castle to rescue him!! And what is more, she wants the help of the pampered Miss Bianca in this venture!

This leaves many heads awhirl with confusion, anger, resentment, and astonishment. No one has ever escaped the Black Castle. It is a bare, black building built into a bare, black mountain. It is seated on bare, desert moor country, and the track leading to the front gate is littered with the bones of prisoners who died on their forced march to the Castle.

But the most startling thing is the Madam Chairwoman’s choice of Miss Bianca to help accomplish the rescue. Miss Bianca is rumored to be an idle mouse, having lived her whole life in luxury. Does she have the courage to do something so daring?

Madam Chairwoman only wants Miss Bianca’s help in finding and securing the aid of a Norwegian mouse for the rescue. After all, the prisoner she wants to free is Norwegian, and it is not likely that he will understand English. They need someone who will be able to speak to him in his native language. (Mice have a universal tongue which they all understand, and naturally speak the language of whichever country they were born and raised in, so they have no problem communicating with each other.)

Well, Madam Chairwoman selects Bernard to ask or even bully Miss Bianca into helping them. Since the Ambassador is headed to Norway with his family, and since Miss Bianca goes wherever the Boy goes, she will be perfectly capable of finding a Norwegian mouse to assist in the rescue.

Well, Bernard makes his way up to the Boy’s room and finds that the rumors are at least partly true: Miss Bianca has been raised in the lap of luxury and therefore has no practical experience in the outside world. But the rumors never mentioned her beauty, which strikes Bernard to the heart. From the moment he sees her, he is madly in love with her. His love and courage are what inspire Miss Bianca to agree, hesitantly, to the plan. And from there the adventure really begins!

This is all that I am going to spoil of The Rescuers, readers. It is a very good little adventure story, and I was glad to read it. I do not think it will usurp the place in my heart where The Rescuers Down Under resides, though. But I am glad to know where Disney’s Miss Bianca and Bernard came from. After all, without Margery Sharp’s stories, there would be no movies!

If you can grab a copy of this book, I highly recommend it. It is well written and fun, especially for children, its target audience. It is certainly worth checking out of the library, anyway!

Adieu!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d banish us – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –

To tell your name – the livelong June –

To an admiring Bog! –

by Emily Dickinson

This poem by Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites. I have read poetry – or have had it read to me – for years. There is nothing like hearing words cascading on the ear in a pleasurable rhythm!

But I did not find Emily Dickinson’s poem I’m Nobody in a book of poetry, readers. I discovered it on the back of The Mouse of Amherst. In this case that would be Amherst, Massachusetts, home of the famous Emily Dickinson. It seems that Miss Dickinson’s poetry has undergone some sort of revival of late. Her work is fantastic, certainly, but she received next to no recognition for it during her lifetime. Most of her poetry was published posthumously.

Part of the reason for this is that the publishers of the time had no idea how to categorize her work. Miss Dickinson’s poetry did not conform to the poetry published during her time. In fact, many of her verses seemed “uncontrolled” and out of sync with what was considered “real” poetry.

This has led to innumerable stories being published about the reclusive Miss Dickinson in recent memory. The Mouse of Amherst is one such novel. Written for young children, The Mouse of Amherst introduces the reader to Emily Dickinson and her poetry from a unique perspective – through the eyes of a mouse that has moved into the wainscoting in Miss Dickinson’s room!

This young white mouse is Emmaline. As any other young mouse, Emmaline’s primary concerns are avoiding the cat and surviving. Yet she senses something about such a life is not fulfilling. It is dull and monotonous; there is nothing to fill her hours except eating, sleeping, and avoiding danger.

Until she moves into her new room, and discovers a welcome gift from Miss Dickinson. It is an inkwell and a feather pen, both mouse-sized. Underneath the inkwell is a poem from Emily Dickinson to Emmaline Mouse (though naturally Miss Dickinson has no idea of her new roommate’s name).

Thus begins the pen pal relationship between the great poet and the small mouse. The two exchange poems and Emmaline encourages Miss Dickinson when her poetry is once again rejected for publication. The strange friendship, however, has its risks – a ball of fur with nine lives, teeth, and claws!

The Mouse of Amherst is a sweet little book fit for any child, though it will probably appeal more quickly to girls than to boys. Everyone should be exposed to good poetry in their life at some point. The Mouse of Amherst is a fine introduction for children to the ticklish, tightrope world of poetry.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

More Wisdom from Kate DiCamillo

WARNING! Spoilers below!!!

The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story. – Kate DiCamillo in The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

Do you remember when Despereaux was in the dungeon, cupped in Gregory the jailer’s hand, whispering a story in the old man’s ear?

I would like it very much if you thought of me as a mouse telling you a story, this story, with the whole of my heart, whispering it in your ear in order to save myself from the darkness, and to save you from the darkness, too.

“Stories are light,” Gregory the jailer told Despereaux.

Reader, I hope you have found some light here. – From The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo