Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Tale of Desperaux, Book the First: A Mouse is Born

Typically, when I have finished reading a novel, I'll reach for the next adult novel in my TBR pile. However, I've been watching The Tale of Desperaux as it somehow seems to keep appearing at the top and last night, I reached for it! After all, I kept reminding myself that if Alexis, Hannah, Leah, Joel, Collin and Aaden of TLC's Jon and Kate Plus 8 would sit through a chapter book, there must really be something to it! Anyways, I was only going to read for 30 minutes before I succumbed to sleep... however, Desperaux Tilling reeled me in and sure enough, I finished "Book the First: A Mouse is Born."

In, "Book the First: A Mouse is Born," the setting is quickly set for readers - a castle, vividly described in the pages that follow. Characters come to life despite our knowing that mice don't really talk. The Tale of Desperaux immediately set my adult mindset back into a time when the world of make-believe truly did exist!

Desperaux, born the last child to his moter and father, the sole survivor of his mother's last litter, quickly received his name for the "sadness and despair" that surrounds Antoinette in the castle where the Tilling family resides. From the very get-go readers are told that Desperaux has something wrong with him - he's too small, his ears are too big, his eyes were open at birth when they shouldn't have been... the list goes on and on. His family is certain that Desperaux will not survive because of all the oddities surrounding his arrival.

However, Desperaux shocks them all, indeed surviving not only the minutes and hours following his unusual birth but living days! Desperaux leads readers on a journey through forbiddent territory, falls in love with Princess Pea while exploring the "smell of honey" and ultimately winding up before the Mouse Council and facing the dreaded "red thread."

The thoughts and questions posed by the narrator kept me intrigued and longing for more, while also allowing me to easily see how this novel could be used in any elementary classroom, captivate the students' attention and interest them in any number of comprehension activities!
For example:
  • "At least Lester had the decency to weep at his act of perfidy. Reader, do you know what "perfidy" means? I have a feeling you do, based on the little scene that has just unfolded here. But you should look up the word in your dictionary, just to be sure." (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 45). This would be a perfect journal topic for students in grades 2-5. Ask them to look up the definition of perfidy in their dictionaries and to make a journal entry with the definition. Next, students could explain how Lester's act was an act of perfidy.

  • "Do you know the definition of adieu? Don't bother with your dictionary. I will tell you. Adieu is the French word for farewell." (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 65) Again, this narration would make for an interesting journal topic. The narrator tells readers that adieu means farewell, but I'm willing to bet, in any classroom there will be at least a handful of students who are unfamiliar with what farewell means. Once students have determined the definition of farewell, they could be asked to imagine something else that Desperaux would want to hear from his mother, something different than what the narrator suggests, "Take me instead."

  • "Because you, mouse, can tell Gregory a story. Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light. And because Desperaux wanted very much to live, he said, "Once upon a time..."" (DiCamillo, The Tale of Desperaux, p. 81) Again, this would be a wonderful journal topic for students in any grade level! Ask them to write the story that they can imagine Desperaux telling Gregory.

That's it for now, as my own adventure with Desperaux Tilling is on-going. However, check back for more, as Book the Second, Book the Third, and Book the Fourth are sure to provide much more reading pleasure!