Saturday, January 13, 2007

Desperately Mousey

In addition to Stephen Fry's Moab is My Washpot, I just finished reading Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. I loved DiCamillo's heart-warming tale Because of Winn Dixie and naturally assumed I would like this book. I'll confess, I approached it expecting something along the lines of Robert O'Brien's classic, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I probably shouldn't have had O'Brien's book in mind when I read DiCamillo's because I found Despereaux,, horribly disappointing.

It isn't so much the storyline itself as it is the way DiCamillo chooses to tell the story--in a patronizing tone that, as an adult, is maddening. Were I a child, it would have been nothing shy of insulting to my five-year old intelligence, both in the sense of being smart enough to grasp the story and young enough to appreciate the magic of this rodent fantasy.

Case in point: DiCamillo repeatedly engages the phrases, "And do you know what happened next, dear reader?" or "Dear reader, do you know what the word [insert 50 cent word here] means?" Stuff and nonsense like that. Of course most five-year olds don't know what the word desperate means, but I have yet to find a five-year old who doesn't stop you midstream and ask on his/her own, "What does desperate mean?" (And the child who doesn't ask should have their parents flogged. Or, have we reached a point in this country where kids really are that dumb? But I stray.)

Beyond the lovely idea that a mouse could escape a dungeon and rescue a princess, this book is one I'm glad I borrowed and didn't buy. Even the illustrations were awful. Granted, the story is dark and frightening, but the drawings of the rats by illustrator Timothy Basil Ering looked like first round concept sketches that never made it out of editing and into a second or third round of final drawing.

All in all, a ghastly book. Out of five stars, I'm being generous in giving it a two. Here's hoping The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is better. Does anyone have a copy I can borrow?

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