It’s not easy being different, but sometimes all we need is a good bowl of soup to overcome our differences… at least in the world of the little mouse Despereaux.
Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux is one of those books that I would have loved as a kid. It’s such a classic sort of tale, the story of a mouse whose big ears and big heart lead him on a quest for love and honor. Like many children’s stories, Despereaux is at once simple and profound, raising issues of good and evil, neglect, suffering, misguided devotion, and individuality in a manner reminiscent of the best fairy tales.
Despereaux is a quick read with a quirky set of characters, an old-fashioned, ever present narrator, and a happy ending. I enjoyed it and it was perfect for my rainy day at home.
After watching the BBC film adaptation of Neol Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes (2007), I was very eager to read the novel.
Ballet Shoes is the story of three special Fossils–Pauline, Petrova, and Posy–orphan girls adopted by an adventurous fossil collector.
When Great-Uncle Matthew, Gum for short, sets off on his latest adventure, his niece Sylvia and her Nana expect that he will break his word and send more fossils to their already cluttered home, but they never imagined that those fossils would arrive in the form of baby girls. Pauline, the eldest, was rescued from a shipwreck and delivered by Gum to the house on Cromwell Road. Petrova was found in Russia, the daughter of a poor man who was unable to care for her; she was sent by post, as the reaction to Pauline’s arrival decided Gum against any more personal deliveries. While Posy, the daughter of a poor dancer, is delivered with a pair of dainty ballet shoes. Left to their own devices, Sylvia and Nana do the best they can to raise the girls while their guardian is away, finding ways to keep the girls happy, healthy, and educated with the money left to Sylvia in trust.
When money becomes scarce in the Fossil household, Sylvia decides to take in boarders to supplement the household income, but the ragtag group of strangers soon becomes a family. The girls soon find themselves the object of everyone’s concern when they enroll as charity students at the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, where Pauline and Posy soon find their niche, though Petrova would rather be a mechanic than a dancer. Vowing to put their names in the history books (because it is their own and no one can say it is because of their grandfathers), Pauline, Petrova, and Posy find that sometimes it takes hard work to make your dreams come true.
Ballet Shoes is the sort of book that I would have adored growing up. It has everything that I loved in children’s stories–girls facing great odds and coming out on top, orphans (oh boy, did I read a lot of books about orphans), acting and dancing, and the idea that children can learn to be themselves without their parents telling them what to do. This was such a fun read; in many ways the Fossils reminded me of the Mortmains in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (one of my favorites), though slightly less dysfunctional. A great read for little girls and little girls at heart.