The Tale of Despereaux


By Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Timothy Ering

This is the first time I have read this novel with the “eye of a teacher.” Upon my more recent reading, I found myself thinking how this book would be a great way to really guide students through the process of understanding author’s craft through the use of extended metaphor.

From the dedication page on, DiCamillo uses light and darkness as a major theme and motif: “The world is dark, and light is precious.”
I found myself visualizing an in-depth study on light and darkness, and how DiCamillo weaves it throughout the story in literal and metaphorical ways. To keep track of the different uses of darkness and lightness, large posters could be displayed in the room and students could add as they read.

Here are some examples about how quotes from the text could be analyzed:

Simile – Light

  • “The song was as sweet as light shining through stained-glass windows, as captivating as the story in he book.” (pg 29)

Description and Characterization – Darkness

  • “They were dark eyes, deep and sad and frightened.” (pg 52)

Setting – Dark vs. Light

  • “The light was shining onto the ceiling in an oval brilliance, and he was smiling up at the sight.” (pg 13)
  • “They moved through warm patches of sunlight and dark pools of shade.” (pg 68)
  • “And it was so dark. Despereaux had never before encountered darkness so awful, so all-encompassing.” (pg 73)

Characterization – Chiaroscuro

  • “…the arrangement of light and dark, darkness and light together” (p 85)

Metaphorical – Light

  • “…he began t0 think that light was the only thing that gave life meaning, and he despaired that there was so little of it to be had.” (pg 88)
  • “I think…that the meaning of life is light.” (pg 88)
  • “He wanted to be filled, flooded, blinded again with light.” (pg 102)
  • “Suffering is not the answer. Light is the answer.” (pg 105)
  • “The sound of the king’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.” (pg 27)

Metaphorical/Sarcasm – Dark

  • “Oh, it is a lovely world, a lovely, dark world.” (pg 91)

As I looked into this myself, I realized that students will likely need scaffolding bridging their understanding from the use of light and dark in the more physical, tangible ways to the more metaphorical uses. Depending on the developmental level of the student group, different depths and breadths of this type of study could be explored.


2 Responses to “The Tale of Despereaux”

  1. 1 Amy Moser

    The relationship between light vs. dark is a reoccuring theme that DeCamillo presents throughout The Tale of Despereaux. Students in the elementary grades as well as middle levels can interpret this relationship and examine how it is presented in each of the literary elements. For example, elementary students can understand the characters such as Roscuro and how he is a rat that is supposed to be drawn to the darkness, while still yearning for the light in his life. They can see “light” as all things “happy and comforting” while “dark” being all things crooked and evil.” Based on your idea of analyzing quotes, students could analyze the changes in characters and how their individual personalities and actions contributed to the good and evil that they experienced. Quote analyzing and understanding similies, metaphors, and even sarcasm are ideas that may be suited well for the middle grade levels, based on the sophistication of the topic.

  2. 2 leslie

    I think students of all levels can find/recognize different levels of DiCamillo’s theme of light/dark. Younger students would be able to comprehend easily the literal use of lightness and darkness in the setting, as they have experience and understanding of how things can be light and dark in the physical world. With this knowledge, students could be guided into the meaning of light/dark in DiCamillo’s characterization. Older students, I think, are developmentally able to recognize and define how DiCamillo uses this theme in metaphorical ways. DiCamillo includes details for all ages, and even though there may be statements that a younger audience may not understand the full meaning and representation of, DiCamillo provides wonderful context clues to guide understanding – even if the metaphors/similes are not clear initially.

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