Many of you are probably familiar with the story The Tale of Despereaux, either through the movie version or through the book. If you’ve only seen the movie, which is well-done but a vastly different storyline, I encourage you to read the book. Large parts of the story are not included in the movie and other parts are altered significantly, and it is well-worth the time to read the book in its entirety.
And let me say this about The Tale of Despereaux. As someone who would love to write books someday, there are a handful of books out there that are so good, for one reason or another, at what they are attempting to do, that if writing that book was the one and only big thing I accomplished in my professional life, I would be satisfied. While I haven’t thought much about writing children’s literature, this is one of those books.
The story is about Despereaux Tilling, a mouse born with his eyes open and with the misfortune of being way too small and simply put, unlike other mice. His fate is drastically altered early in the story when he falls in love with a princess and is then in effect betrayed by his father and sent to the dungeon, a lethal place for most mice. His tale of survival and subsequent chivalry are the “interesting fate” of a mouse “who does not conform.”
But the story really isn’t just about Despereaux. It’s also about Miggery Sow, a peasant girl traded into slavery by her father in exchange for cigarettes, a hen, and a red tablecloth. And it’s about Roscuro, a rat who, despite what he’s been taught, longs for light. All three characters grow to desire something that societal mandates have told them they cannot have and must avoid. Yet they long for them anyway.
By the end, it’s difficult to avoid loving these characters, with all their idiosyncrasies and their struggles to find truth amidst the evil temptations they also face, in a world where none of them quite feel or do what those of their kind are expected to feel or do.
So that’s the book in a nutshell. But more specifically, I wanted to bring up the audio book.
Before our trip to Washington, DC, I was looking for an audio book that would be good for the small people when I stumbled on this. We had watched the movie version almost two years ago, and I had yet to read the book to the kids, so I decided this would be a good choice for our trip. Not only did the kids enjoy listening to it, but even my husband, who rarely shows any interest in fiction, broke his habit of providing endless monologues during road trips and quickly became absorbed in the story.
DiCamillo’s narration is tailor-made for an audio book. The audio book is unabridged, with the only change from the original story being where DiCamillo originally wrote “reader,” as in “But, reader, he did live,” the audio inserts the word “listener” in its place. The technique is highly effective.
The audio book is narrated by Graeme Malcolm, who is, in my opinion, excellent at narration. His voice is rich and nuanced and lyrical, and he moves smoothly and distinctly from one character’s voice to another. Oh, that voice! Suffice it to say, you just have to hear that voice.
Did I mention Malcolm’s voice?
Published by Listening Library, the story is contained in three CDs and is about three-and-a-half hours in length. While it is certainly an audio that can be listened to in larger chunks of time, the book’s short chapters lend themselves to short drives as well, in case you are looking for a diversion for the kid who craves entertain even for the five minute drive to the grocery store. Of course, I’m not speaking from experience here.
As one of the characters says, “Stories are light.” Reader, this story is indeed light.