I’m sorry, but I HATED the 2004 winner, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. I’m not going to bother with a picture, because there’s already one in Nicola's post just below. On the positive side, I agree with Sandy D. that the story will introduce some readers to some new vocabulary. But I definitely agree with the suggestion in Dr.Bacchus’s post that “You may want to read this yourself before you read it with your kids.”
This story was too dark for me. I know some kids like such stories (like the Lemony Snicket books), and if yours is one, they might enjoy this. I was bothered by Despereaux’s father and brother turning him in (because he dared to talk to a human!), even though they knew it would mean certain death in a dungeon of rats for such a minor crime.
Even more disturbing to me was the treatment of the character Miggory Sow. She’s named for a pig; she’s ugly and gets fat; her father SELLS her for a hen, a red tablecloth, and some cigarettes; and the man who buys her BEATS her until her ears look like cauliflowers and she loses part of her hearing. She’s described as “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”—boy, doesn’t that reinforce stereotypes!
I do think Graeme Malcolm did a great job narrating the audiobook. His British accent was perfect for this medieval tale, and he created different voices for the various characters – Italian accents for the Italian-named (Botticelli was especially amusing) rats, French for Despereaux’s mother Antoinette, Scottish for the threadmaster Hovis. Some of the voices may sound evil, but it IS a dark tale. DiCamillo’s use of asides to the reader/listener comes across as very intrusive and irritating in the audiobook. I did like the lovely cover and and deckled paper of the hardbound version, but found the pencil illustrations by Timothy Basil Eving generally only added to the grimness of the story.
[Originally drafted 8/26/07--thanks to Nicola's post for helping me to realize I never actually posted this!]