The Tale of Despereaux (Hardcover) by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. Candlewick, 2003. ISBN: 0763617229. pp: 272.
Ages: 8-14, gr: 3-8
Paperback (Reprint edition April 11, 2006) ISBN: 0763625299



A mouse with a dream of happily-ever-after loving a Princess, a rat with a dream of revenge, and a dim-witted servant girl with a dream of being royalty each have their story, and their section of the book. The paths of their lives come close at various points and then converge as each plots to achieve his/her dream. Eleven Booktalks provide a varied introduction to The Tale of Despereaux.


Pre-reading note for the teacher:
Listening to early chapters of the book read aloud can help students with the pronunciation. Kate DiCamillo reads Chapter One at the Candlewick Press site. Click "hear more about The Tale of Despereaux", and you also have the choice to hear two other short comments. Chapter Two from the CD version is read at Book Clubs.
  1. When Despereaux fell into the darkness of the dungeon, (page 74) he panics until he remembers the words of the threadmaster. Describe how Despereaux demonstrated honor, courtesy, devotion, and bravery by the end of the story.

  2. Find a recipe for a soup with ingredients that include chicken, garlic, and watercress. (several online) What is watercress?

  3. Scheherazade was another character who was allowed to live because of the telling of stories. Listen to part of the Scheherazade symphony composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
    Note for the teacher: Extend the study of the music using the Scheherazade Interactive unit with lesson plan (pdf), designed for grades 2-4 but useable into the intermediate grades.

  4. Discuss the author’s style of commenting directly to the reader. What effect did this style have on your enjoyment of the story?

  5. Draw a circle diagram explaining the "vicious circle" of Miggery Sow’s life. Brainstorm characters from other books whose lives have a vicious circle.

  6. Compare the pictures of Mig on pages 133 and 155. How does Mr. Ering show Mig has changed? How does he show that both pictures are of the same girl?

  7. The Tale of Despereaux has been called a fairy tale. In what ways is it a fairy tale? In what ways is it not a fairy tale?

  8. One strategy readers use to understand a story is to predict what is going to happen. One technique writers use to help the reader is foreshadowing. Wordsmyth defines these words.
    • predict: to say in advance, to guess about
    • foreshadow: to signal or indicate beforehand
    Foreshadowing may help the reader make a prediction, or may just help to keep the reader interested in finding what will happen. Find an example of foreshadowing on each of these pages:
    page 24, page 25, page 32, page 103, page 121, page 157, page 165
  9. There are many beautiful things in the castle including tapestries. The Unicorn Tapestries are an example of how tapestries were made to tell a story, either a myth or event from daily life. Design a tapestry for your life.

  10. We readers are told that Despereaux and the princess lived ever after as friends and together they had many adventures. Create your own tale of one of these adventures.

Word Study

Can you explain these phrases from the book? Which ones can you figure out from the context of the page?
  1. page 20 - scrabbling across the waxed castle floor
  2. page 24 - one of her indignant whiskers
  3. page 35 - brought before the tribunal
  4. page 45 - perfidy
  5. page 52 - egregious acts
  6. page 88 - longed inexplicably for light
  7. page 96 - mice are despicable
  8. page 99 - astute powers of observation
  9. page 117 - dire consequences
  10. page 129 - scrupulously fair
  11. page 158 - olfactory senses
  12. page 158 - stench was not discernible to her
  13. page 160 - quiet in an ominous way
  14. page 167 - unusual portentous thing
  15. page 169 - ascertaining that you have aspirations
  16. page 171 - diabolical plan
  17. page 184 - on a covert mission
  18. page 185 - divine comeuppance
  19. page 219 - on a quest

About the Author


Related books

More for the teacher

Links to other online guides for The Tale of Despereaux.


The Tale of Despereaux. Accelerated Reader: Quiz #70401 EN; Book Level 4.7; Points= 5.0
Book Adventure (Sylvan): Quiz Level 5
Reading Counts: Reading Level 4.8; Points= 9.0
Lexile Level 670
Guided Reading Level U
Flesch/Kincaid Reading Level: 4.7
word count= 31975

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