Reading guide for The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Timothy Ering

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The Tale of Despereaux

Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread

By Kate DiCamillo, Timothy Ering

The Tale of Despereaux
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2003,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2006,
    272 pages.

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

The Short of the Story

Despereaux Tilling, a small but adventurous mouse, is different from the other mice. His big dreams lead him out of the world of mice and into the worlds of people and rats. Along the way he discovers some surprising things about himself and those around him. In the end, Despereaux learns that even the tiniest mouse can be as brave and successful as a knight in shining armor.

Questions to Discuss
  1. How is Despereaux different from the other mice?

  2. What happens when Despereaux’s sister Merlot tries to teach him to nibble paper? How does this affect the rest of the story?

  3. Why does the King tell the Princess not to speak with Despereaux? When Despereaux leaves the Princess, he says to her, "I honor you." Why?

  4. Why does the Mouse Council call Despereaux before them? What is their decision?

  5. Who is Gregory, and how does he help Despereaux?

  6. Who is Miggery Sow? How does she come to be at the castle?

  7. Who are Boticelli and Roscuro? Why does Botticelli tell Roscuro to take the red cloth from Miggery Sow’s father? What does Roscuro believe the cloth will do?

  8. What does the Queen love more than anything in the world? Why is it banned from the kingdom?

  9. What is Roscuro’s plan for the Princess? What does he think he will gain from this plan?

  10. What do Miggery Sow and the Princess Pea have in common?

  11. Who is the threadmaster, and what is his job? How does he end up helping Despereaux?

  12. When Despereaux comes upon Cook in the kitchen, what is she doing? Why is Cook afraid?

  13. When Despereaux goes down into the dungeon to save the Princess, what four things do the rats smell? Why?

  14. Which two characters lose their tails in the story, and how?

  15. Does Despereaux succeed in his quest to save the Princess? What is the outcome of his quest?

  16. What does the author hope the reader will find in the story?

Coming to Terms
Learn what the following words mean and how to pronounce them:

  • adieu
  • chiaroscuro
  • empathy
  • furlough
  • perfidy
  • portentous
  • remorse

What's The Point .... of View?

  1. Author Kate DiCamillo tells The Tale of Despereaux through the voice of an omniscient narrator--one outside the story who knows everything that happens to all the characters, including what they’re thinking and feeling. What’s more, the narrator sometimes speaks directly to the reader and helps guide him or her through the story. This type of narrative device was sometimes used by Charles Dickens and other writers of his day.

  2. In some cases, the narrator’s voice may make you smile. In Chapter 30, for example, she has this to say about Miggery Sow: "Reader, as the teller of this tale, it is my duty from time to time to utter some hard and rather disagreeable truths. In the spirit of honesty, then, I must inform you that Mig was the tiniest bit lazy. And, too, she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer." What was your reaction when you read this?

  3. In other instances, the narrator speaks to the reader about some powerful themes. Focusing on chapters 5, 28, 38, and 40, see if you can find examples where the narrator speaks to the reader about love, hope, empathy, and forgiveness. What does the narrator say about these themes? Does the voice of the narrator help you understand things about the story that you might otherwise have missed?

  4. Did you enjoy having the narrator speak directly to you as you were reading?

A Matter of Time

  1. The Tale of Despereaux follows several characters. These characters don’t know one another at the start of the story, but by the end they have come into each other’s lives. In the process, their destiny changes.

  2. Draw a timeline for each of these characters: Despereaux, Roscuro, Miggery Sow, and Princess Pea. Use a different color for each. Include on each character’s timeline the key events you know about that character’s life. At what point do their timelines start to interconnect?

  3. Imagine what a timeline might look like for each of these characters if they had never come to meet the other three.

What Happens Next?

What do you think happens next in the story? Does Despereaux have other adventures? Does anything change in the dungeon? What is life like for Miggery Sow? Come up with more questions about what happens after The Tale of Despereaux. Write a story to answer your questions.

Once Upon A Time . . .

If you liked reading The Tale of Despereaux, here are some other books that author Kate DiCamillo would recommend:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aikens (Yearling Books)
Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aikens (Houghton Mifflin)
The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (Arthur A. Levine)

Ambitious readers may also want to explore David Copperfield or other novels by Charles Dickens. Happy reading!


The majority of this discussion guide was contributed by Amanda Witman, a former library assistant at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts, and currently a homeschooling mom to three children.  Reproduced with the permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Candlewick Press. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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