What can one really say about this book that will do it justice. Dicamillo is one of the best authors that I've read in recent years, and everything that she writes is deeply moving. Despereaux is a story of light and darkness, and the ways that they interleave, and depend on one another in every life. Although it is the tale of Despereaux, it is also the tale of a number of other characters, each of which is equally important to the story, and each of which has the opportunity for redemption of their pain.
You may want to read this yourself before you read it with your kids. Sure, some kids will be unaffected by it. It's just a story. But if you have a sensitive young girl, as I do, the story is very sad in places, and doesn't try to sugar-coat the fact that life is hard, and that not everybody gets a happy ending.
Despereaux, who is a mouse, commits the unforgivable offense of falling in love with a human, and so is banished, disowned by his family, and tastes desperation, loss, and darkness. And Chiaroscuro, a sensitive rat born in the darkness, has an opportunity to taste beauty and light. How each deals with these revelations is a gripping tale, and one is able to submerge in their lives for a few hours.
Dicamillo is also the author of "Because of Winn Dixie", and "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane", which I highly recommend, although Edward Tulane, once again, was very dark and could be upsetting for sensitive kids. My daughter and I are currently reading "The Tiger Rising", also by Dicamillo. I can't get enough of her writing.