The Tale of Despereaux is coming to movie theatres and plenty of kids already know the story of the triumphant mouse. I, however, did not. And the beginning of the book absolutely slayed me with its inappropriateness for its target age group, 8 to 12 years old.
There’s nothing wrong with teaching kids about the way the world is, a little at a time. But this story actually opens with a Mama mouse having a litter and her husband telling her “they’re all dead” except for one. “Dead?? All that work for NOTHING?” she cries. “Well, there is one!”, says Papa. And within the first couple of paragraphs she makes the death of her babies all about her while he tries to convince her that one is better than nothing.
Soon the father tells the older siblings to shun the newborn mouse because “there’s something wrong with him”. This is how the book OPENS. I was ready to go for counselling after the trauma of learning what the helpless little rodent had to go through.
How did this become a big hit? How do you tuck little Susie into bed and say, let’s crack open that story tonight, ok sweetie, and freak her little pyjama-clad psyche out by diving right into indifferent parents, multiple mouse deaths and a mass shunning of a baby by its family? Yes, we know the wee cheese-eater eventually makes out alright but that’s really not the point. It’s what it takes to get there that matters, too.
This book was purchased by a family member to give to a youngster for Christmas but after reading it, she decided it’s not appropriate and I agree. I had a pair of gerbils as a kid and when Mama gave birth to a litter, Papa ate all but one, which we tried and failed to save by feeding with an eyedropper. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s age appropriate. At least Desperaux’s Daddy didn’t eat all of his littermates. We think.