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Crescent Blues Book ViewsCandlewick Press (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0763617229

"The envelope please…"

Each year, in mid-January, legions of librarians flock to their annual American Library Association (ALA) conference to greet old friends, make new connections and discover which books will claim their organization's most prestigious awards.

Book: kate dicamillo the tale of desperaux
In particular, the Newbery Medal -- awarded to the most outstanding work of children's literature published in the U.S. during the previous year -- engenders much heated debate among parents, teachers, writers, librarians and the young readers themselves. While some books stand the test of time, others fade away like last week's teenage buzzword.

This year's Newbery Medal, presented to Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux, upholds the standard set by previous winners such as Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia and Madeleine L'Engle's timeless favorite A Wrinkle in Time.

The Tale of Despereaux qualifies as a perfect read-aloud book for ages nine and up. The book's subtitle tells it all: "Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread." With Timothy Basil Ering's captioned pencil drawings, the short enticing chapters beg for a closer look and an extra 15 minutes of bedtime reading.

Kate DiCamillo, the author of two other acclaimed books, Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tiger Rising, both realistic novels set in the South, invokes elements of the fairy tale and the cautionary tale. She warns, "The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story." DiCamillo encourages her young readers to think of her as the mouse telling the story. And what a story she tells.

Despereaux, a little mouse with extraordinarily large ears, comes into the world with his eyes open. At birth, his mother worries that he will never measure up to the rest of the family. His sister, Merlot, says she's never seen bigger ears.

But Despereaux uses his oversized ears to listen to the world around him. When he falls in love with a human princess named Pea, both friend and foe declare the romance doomed. But Despereaux also loves music and stories -- he even knows how to read -- and this small, unlikely hero believes in happily ever after. As his adventures force him into the dark underground world of rats and villains, Despereaux's tale will tingle your spine and make you wish for a magical ending.

Like many Newbury winners, however, The Tale of Despereaux is not without its detractors. While some see the "Dear Reader" narrative device as witty and fanciful, others find it jarring and intrusive. I predict this year's Newbery winner will stand the test of time and that kids for years to come will remember the adventures of a tiny mouse, with very large ears, named Despereaux Tilling.

All of the honors awarded by ALA's various committees can be found at the ALA Awards page, including the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award.

Augusta Scattergood

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