I have recently discovered a beautiful and wonderful new children’s book: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread. I’ve heard that the movie makes significant changes and isn’t worth watching (I haven’t seen it), but the book is definitely worth your time. If you can, get the audiobook.
This is her dedication/introduction on the first page:
“The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.”
I like this book in part because it’s beautiful, and in part because it doesn’t feel the need to avoid real unhappiness for the sake of its readers. Children have known fear and loss and disappointment too, and books are a way to help them deal with it.
The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.
The central story is about a mouse (Despereaux) who loves with a human girl (in a knight-errant sort of way), and gets in trouble with the other mice for not being mouse-like enough.
Reader, you may ask this question. In fact, you must ask this question. Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse fall in love with a beautiful princess named Pea? The answer is… Yes. Of course it’s ridiculous. Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful.
Despereaux’s story is intertwined with that of a rat with a broken (and poorly mended) heart, and of a little girl who no one has ever cared about.
I’ve also read diCamillo’s “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” and I loved that too. There are strong themes in both about losing family and finding family – the idea that your family are the people who love you, the people who are there for you.