"The Tale of Despereaux" Classroom Activities

Close-up of character from
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Kate DiCamillo's award-winning "The Tale of Despereaux" shows students how appearances may be deceiving as it chronicles the adventures of a courageous small-bodied, large-eared and open-wide-eyed mouse who enjoys interaction with humans and reading books. Classroom activities provide students with fun ways to study and enjoy the 2004 novel, which spawned a 2008 animated feature film.

1 Character Exploration Activities

Students write characteristics or traits of a character from "The Tale of Despereaux." For instance, the trait "loves goodness and light" describes Roscuro, while "longs to be a princess" describes "Mig" Sow. A student reads the traits aloud and other students try to guess the character. Students may draw the character of their choice, including visual details that support that character's traits. For instance, a student may draw Despereaux in shining armor; like a knight in one of the tales he reads, the mouse exhibits chivalrous and courageous behavior. Students may also note their own similarities and differences to characters in the novel. For example, like Gregory the Jailor, a student may love hearing stories, while unlike Princess Pea, a student may not enjoy the company of a mouse.

2 Creative Activities

The instructor may assign each student a character and scene from "The Tale of Despereaux." Students prepare a costume and act out the scene for their classmates. For a visual depiction of the novel, students may create dioramas, representing a scene or setting from the novel. With soup playing an integral role in the story, students can make the soup of their choice at home with an adult and bring samples to class for their peers to taste.

3 Mouse Versus Rat Activities

Mice and rats share status as members of the rodent order, but as evidenced in "The Tale of Despereaux," they share differences as well as similarities. In the novel, mice are fearful creatures, with rats depicted as evil dungeon dwellers. In this activity, students form pairs or small groups and research similarities and differences between mice and rats. Each pair or group should concentrate on a specific aspect of both mice and rats, such as enemies, food, habitat, habits and physical characteristics to compare and present their findings in class discussions. Students may also choose their favorite fictional mouse or rat and explain how that character differs from or is similar to Despereaux.

4 Reading and Viewing Activities

After reading "The Tale of Despereaux," students may read or watch other fairy tales and compare them to events in the novel. For instance, Despereaux embarks on a mission to rescue the kidnapped Princess Pea, similar to the prince setting out to rescue the protagonist in "The Sleeping Beauty." Students can also discuss similarities to other books featuring mouse protagonists, for example, noting that like Despereaux, the protagonist in E.B. White's "Stuart Little" sets out to find his female friend (Margalo the Bird).

Jim Radenhausen is a freelancer who began writing professionally in 1998. A resident of Reeders, Pa., he spent over two years working at the "Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal." Radenhausen received his bachelor's degree in English/professional writing from Kutztown University in 1997.