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March 30, 2017

The Tale of Despereaux: A Read-Along Guide

By Genia Connell
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    The Newbery-winning children’s book, The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, is one of my favorites to read aloud to my third graders each year. It’s the perfect novel to help introduce students to characters changing over time while teaching symbolism, imagery, and author’s point of view.

     Following the classic storyline of a fairy tale, a small “unmouselike” mouse named Despereaux falls in love with a princess and allows himself to be touched by a human. When his brother sees him sitting at the foot of the King, Despereaux is brought before the mouse council, a tribunal whose members include his own father. The council sentences Despereaux to the dungeon where he realizes he will need to save his princess from a plan hatched by the one of the story’s villains, Roscuro.

    There is a lot happening throughout this book, including subtleties many of my third graders don’t pick up on their own. Therefore, whenever we begin this read-aloud book, I keep a piece of chart paper near me that I use to note characters, settings, important or “fun to say” words, and big ideas. Each day as we get settled in for read-aloud time, students eagerly vie to be the scribe who will add to the chart.

    A few chapters in, I draw attention to how many times we have already heard certain phrases or words. Two words that have surfaced several times at this point are light and dark. As the story evolves, these two oft-repeated words come to symbolize the forces of good (light) battling evil (dark).

    Once the rat Chiaroscuro decides the meaning of life is light and he needs to leave the darkness of the dungeon, we stop our reading, go back to the beginning, and actually tally how many times the author has used the words light and dark. From then on, two students sit by the chart during reading to listen and tally every time they hear the words light and dark or a derivative — such as darkness. Students listen to the story very intently at this point so as not to miss a single light or dark.

    Once we are about one third of the way through the book, students get their own personal charts (12 x18 white paper) that they customize with the title, and spots to write vocabulary words, characters, chapter synopsis, and, of course, a place to tally the words light and dark.

      

     

    I’ve found that when my students use these charts, they seem to be more engaged with the text while I read. They listen, write, doodle notes, and make sense of the story by keeping track of it, bit by bit, each day. I keep the charts once we finish the book, then pass them out for students to compare with other titles we are reading. Just last week students compared their Tale of Despereaux sheet (the first one they did) with their latest, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, also by Kate diCamillo. Students were able to notice the theme of love weaving through both stories, as well as words that were repeated through both, such as disappointment and despair.

    Other Resources I Use With This Book

    Scholastic already has many great resources on their site for this book, so why reinvent the wheel? Below are some of the resources I use:

    Vocabulary

    Print these word wall cards I created with Word Workshop, or make your own!

    Discussion Questions

    I discovered this set of discussion questions on the Scholastic website, and although they say they are for literature circles, I find they work really well during read-aloud time.

    Character Scrapbook

    My students love using the Character Scrapbook online activity. It’s great to get them thinking about characters, their traits, and their point of view.

     

    Other Resources

    Kate DiCamillo

    Add this book to your collection!

    I hope you’ll enjoy this story about a mouse who won’t scurry, a beautiful princess, a dastardly rat, and a not-too-bright serving girl with your class. This book has earned a spot on my classics bookshelf, not only because it is a wonderful story, but because it manages to engage my students at high levels while teaching them how to begin looking beyond the literal meaning of words on the page to grasp symbolism, allegories, and characters changing over time. If you haven’t tried The Tale of Despereaux yet, I highly recommend reading to your class.

    Take care and thanks for reading, Genia

    The Newbery-winning children’s book, The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, is one of my favorites to read aloud to my third graders each year. It’s the perfect novel to help introduce students to characters changing over time while teaching symbolism, imagery, and author’s point of view.

     Following the classic storyline of a fairy tale, a small “unmouselike” mouse named Despereaux falls in love with a princess and allows himself to be touched by a human. When his brother sees him sitting at the foot of the King, Despereaux is brought before the mouse council, a tribunal whose members include his own father. The council sentences Despereaux to the dungeon where he realizes he will need to save his princess from a plan hatched by the one of the story’s villains, Roscuro.

    There is a lot happening throughout this book, including subtleties many of my third graders don’t pick up on their own. Therefore, whenever we begin this read-aloud book, I keep a piece of chart paper near me that I use to note characters, settings, important or “fun to say” words, and big ideas. Each day as we get settled in for read-aloud time, students eagerly vie to be the scribe who will add to the chart.

    A few chapters in, I draw attention to how many times we have already heard certain phrases or words. Two words that have surfaced several times at this point are light and dark. As the story evolves, these two oft-repeated words come to symbolize the forces of good (light) battling evil (dark).

    Once the rat Chiaroscuro decides the meaning of life is light and he needs to leave the darkness of the dungeon, we stop our reading, go back to the beginning, and actually tally how many times the author has used the words light and dark. From then on, two students sit by the chart during reading to listen and tally every time they hear the words light and dark or a derivative — such as darkness. Students listen to the story very intently at this point so as not to miss a single light or dark.

    Once we are about one third of the way through the book, students get their own personal charts (12 x18 white paper) that they customize with the title, and spots to write vocabulary words, characters, chapter synopsis, and, of course, a place to tally the words light and dark.

      

     

    I’ve found that when my students use these charts, they seem to be more engaged with the text while I read. They listen, write, doodle notes, and make sense of the story by keeping track of it, bit by bit, each day. I keep the charts once we finish the book, then pass them out for students to compare with other titles we are reading. Just last week students compared their Tale of Despereaux sheet (the first one they did) with their latest, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, also by Kate diCamillo. Students were able to notice the theme of love weaving through both stories, as well as words that were repeated through both, such as disappointment and despair.

    Other Resources I Use With This Book

    Scholastic already has many great resources on their site for this book, so why reinvent the wheel? Below are some of the resources I use:

    Vocabulary

    Print these word wall cards I created with Word Workshop, or make your own!

    Discussion Questions

    I discovered this set of discussion questions on the Scholastic website, and although they say they are for literature circles, I find they work really well during read-aloud time.

    Character Scrapbook

    My students love using the Character Scrapbook online activity. It’s great to get them thinking about characters, their traits, and their point of view.

     

    Other Resources

    Kate DiCamillo

    Add this book to your collection!

    I hope you’ll enjoy this story about a mouse who won’t scurry, a beautiful princess, a dastardly rat, and a not-too-bright serving girl with your class. This book has earned a spot on my classics bookshelf, not only because it is a wonderful story, but because it manages to engage my students at high levels while teaching them how to begin looking beyond the literal meaning of words on the page to grasp symbolism, allegories, and characters changing over time. If you haven’t tried The Tale of Despereaux yet, I highly recommend reading to your class.

    Take care and thanks for reading, Genia

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