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I can say with a good amount of certainty that I have never read another book in which such a big deal was made of soup.

In other things, this is definitely my Humanities education coming out, but one of my favorite things about this book is that there’s a rat named Chiaroscuro. (For those of you who didn’t have a wonderful-liberal-arts education, chiaroscuro is the use of strong contrasts between dark and light in art, a technique developed in the Renaissance.) Chiaroscuro the rat lives in the midnight-dark dungeon but wants nothing more than to live in the light. So, his name is quite suitable.

But mainly, this is the story of Despereaux (as the title may have tipped you off), a mouse who falls in love with the princess of the castle and who just isn’t like the rest of the mice in the castle, much to the confusion and chagrin of his large mice-family. (And, as the narrator tells us, “Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”)

Secondarily, this is the story of Chiaroscuro’s venture into the land of the light, what happens to him, and what he does about it. (In which we learn, “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell [me] a story. Make some light.”)

And tertiarily (or maybe co-secondarily?), it is the story of Miggery Sow, a girl whose mother died when she was young and whose father sold her to be a slave for a red tablecloth, a hen, and a handful of cigarettes (And, I mean, come on – if you’re going to sell your daughter into slavery, get a little more in return than a tablecloth, a hen, and some cigarettes! [Kidding, kidding.]) Miggery is determined that “Someday… I will be a princess.”

A fourth driving force in the story is the Princess Pea, who, far from being a fairy-tale princess, is quite real, as we see in this bit of narration: “Pea was aware suddenly of how fragile her heart was, how much darkness was inside it, fighting, always, with the light.” (This reminded me of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which I just read, because of the mix of good and bad that is shown in the characters – making them, really, just like all of us.)

If that cast of characters doesn’t make you interested, I don’t know what will!

A few other quotes I liked:

“Reader, you may ask this question; in fact, you must ask this question: Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with a beautiful human princess named Pea? The answer is… yes. Of course, it’s ridiculous.
“Love is ridiculous. But love is also wonderful. And powerful. And Despereaux’s love for the Princess Pea would prove, in time, to be all of these things: powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous.”

“Do you think it is a terrible thing to hope when there is really no reason to hope at all? Or is it… something that you might just as well do, since, in the end, it really makes no difference to anyone but you?” (What do you think, readers?)

But my favorite quote, definitively, is above: “Stories are light…”

This book was just made to read aloud, so if you’re looking for a read-aloud, you should check this one out!