The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Teacher Guide By Elizabeth Pedro

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The Tale of Despereaux Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Tale of Despereaux Include:

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo is a fairy tale about an unusual mouse named Despereaux, a beautiful princess, a poor girl desperate to become royalty, and a deceitful rat with a plan to get revenge.

The Tale of Despereaux Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Vocabulary in The Tale of Despereaux

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In this activity, students are able to demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words. Students may be provided the vocabulary words or they can use words they have discovered through their reading of the text. The definition and images validate their understanding of the word and the context that it was used in the novel.

The Tale of Despereaux Vocabulary

  • perfidy
  • eon
  • gregarious
  • ominous
  • beleaguered
  • burly
  • ordeal
  • speculation
  • relishing
  • intone

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in The Tale of Despereaux by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Character Map for The Tale of Despereaux

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By creating a character map, students are able to visualize the characters in the story, paying close attention to the physical traits, character traits, enemies, and friends of both major and minor characters. This is particularly helpful in understanding how the characters connect with one another and how their relationships impact the plot.

Characters included in the character map are:

  • Despereaux
  • Princess Pea
  • The King
  • The Queen
  • Miggery Sow
  • Gregory
  • Roscuro
  • Botticelli
  • The Cook
  • Furlough
  • Lester
  • Hovis

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in The Tale of Despereaux and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a Storyboard That character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical Appearance, Traits, Enemies, and Friends.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Summary of The Tale of Despereaux

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This story is structured in four sections: "A Mouse is Born", "Chiaroscuro", "Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow", and "Recalled to the Light". Have students create an image that represents an important event in each of the four parts.

A Mouse is Born

The first section introduces readers to the protagonist, Despereaux, and his family, who disown him.


The second part of the story introduces readers to the antagonists, Roscuro and Botticelli, who believe that their purpose is to torture people.

Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow

The third book is about Miggery Sow, her desire to become a princess, and how she came to live at the castle.

Recalled to the Light

In the fourth book, Despereaux saves Princess Pea from Roscuro.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that briefly summarizes each book in The Tale of Despereaux.

  1. Type in the names of each part in the title boxes.
  2. Write 1-2 sentences that describes what each part was about in the description boxes.
  3. Make an image in each cell that shows an important event or idea for that part.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Theme in The Tale of Despereaux

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Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify a theme and support their choices with details from the text.

Example Despereaux Theme


During the novel, several characters forgive others for the wrongs they committed. For example, Despereaux is sent into exile by his own father. Later, Despereaux returns and, seeing the tears in his father’s eyes, forgives him for this. A very different aspect of the same theme is revealed when Roscuro does not forgive Princess Pea for the evil look she gave him. This is especially important to the story because by not forgiving the princess, he is left with darkness inside himself that he is unable to repair. Finally though, at the end of the novel, Pea forgives Roscuro for kidnapping her and for accidentally killing her mother, and he is redeemed.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies themes in The Tale of Despereaux. Illustrate examples of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from The Tale of Despereaux you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for an example that represents this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Points of View in The Tale of Despereaux

The point of view in The Tale of Despereaux is different from many other novels. First, the narrator speaks directly to the reader, like when the narrator tells readers how Despereaux was listening to the music instead of searching for crumbs like normal mice. Additionally, the narrator knows what the characters are thinking; the narrator tells the reader how Despereaux is eager to see the light. Finally, the narrator knows what the characters are feeling; he describes the mixture of emotions of Despereaux as he saves the princess from Roscuro.

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Event Analysis in The Tale of Despereaux

In this activity, students will choose an event, or a series of connected events, that play a key role in the plot. This example reveals how Despereaux was mistreated by his family and his community for being different. First, Furlough, Despereaux’s brother, notices Despereaux’s strange behavior and reports it to their father, Lester. After Lester sends Despereaux to the Mouse Council, the Head Mouse declares that Despereaux is a threat to the community and therefore sends him to the rats in the dungeon. Furlough is responsible for escorting Despereaux to the dungeon after sentencing.

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The Tale of Despereaux Book Summary

Book I: A Mouse is Born

Despereaux is a mouse whose mother immediately complains about him being a disappointment; he is extremely small, has giant ears, and was born with his eyes open. Despereaux’s brother, Furlough, and his sister, Merlot, try to teach Despereaux to be a normal mouse, but there is just something different about him. Despereaux’s family quickly gives up on educating him to be a mouse.

Despereaux is left on his own, and wanders towards the beautiful sound of music. He becomes so entranced by the music that he follows it straight to the foot of the King, and Princess Pea. Despereaux falls in love at the first sight of Pea. He lets Pea scratch his ears and he even speaks to the royals. After Furlough witnesses this encounter between the humans and Despereaux, he runs to tell their father, who calls the Mouse Council to discuss the matter.

The Council determines Despereaux is a threat to the community and announces that he will be sent to the rat dungeon. Despereaux is given an opportunity to recant his feelings toward the humans, but he refuses. Instead, he bravely proclaims his love for Pea.

Despereaux is thrown into the dark dungeon, where he meets Gregory, an old jailor who saves him from the rats in exchange for a story.

Book II: Chiaroscuro

The narrator goes back in time to introduce a rat named Chiaroscuro, or Roscuro. Roscuro is enamored with light and talks with the wise rat, Botticelli Remorso, about his curiosity. Botticelli tells Roscuro that he is a rat, and a rat’s purpose in life is to torture prisoners. Remorso tortures the next prisoner that arrives, but he is disappointed; he believes light is the true purpose of life and decides to go upstairs.

Roscuro explores a little of the upstairs, but interrupts a party by falling into the Queen’s soup. The Queen falls backward to her death and Roscuro catches the look of anger and hatred from Pea, which breaks his heart. Roscuro returns to the dungeon to plan his revenge on Princess Pea.

Book III: Gor! The Tale of Miggery Sow

The narrator introduces Miggery Sow, the daughter of a prisoner, who was sold for a red tablecloth, a hen, and a pack of cigarettes. Miggery served as a slave to the man who bought her, whom she called “Uncle”. Uncle continually hit her in the ear, to the point where she became partially deaf.

On day, Miggery sees the princess pass by, and decides she wants nothing more than to be a princess with a crown and a white horse. As fate would have it, the King’s soldier enters Uncle’s home to declare soup illegal. He also states that owning another person is illegal and takes Miggery to the castle. Miggery becomes a servant at the castle, but she can’t perform any of the tasks correctly, so the Cook sends her to feed prisoners in the dungeon. As Miggery is serving Gregory his food, she talks about her dream of being a princess. Roscuro is delighted at hearing this; he stops Miggery and explains his plan to bring the princess down to the darkness. In return for her help, he promises Miggery she can become the princess.

Book: IV Recalled to the Light

Miggery brings the tray back to the kitchen, but Gregory had sneaked Despereaux onto the tray. When he is discovered, the Cook demands that Miggery kill the mouse. Miggery cuts off Despereaux’s tail, but he gets away. In a great deal of pain and feeling a mixture of joy, gratitude, and despair, Despereaux weeps and falls asleep for a long, long time.

While Despereaux sleeps, Roscuro’s plan goes into effect: Roscuro chewed through Gregory’s rope, leaving Gregory lost in the maze of the dungeon, and Miggery climbed upstairs to the princess’s room with a knife. Miggery believes that she and the princess will just switch places; however, Roscuro’s true plan is to lock Pea in the dungeon forever.

Miggery wakes Pea from a dream about her mother and demands that she comes with her, but Pea does not go easily. Roscuro insists that the Pea listen to his directions or Miggery will use the knife on her. After these threats, the three make their way into the dungeon.

Despereaux finally wakes to find the princess has already been kidnapped. Despereaux goes to the king to tell him what he knows about Pea’s disappearance, but the king is too stubborn to listen, and Despereaux is left with no choice but act like a knight in shining armor and rescue Pea himself.

Newly armed with a sewing needle and a spool of thread by his friend, Hovis, Despereaux makes his way to the dungeon. He is caught by the Cook in the kitchen, but the Cook, who was cooking (illegal) soup, decides to feed Despereaux the delicious soup instead of kill him. She lets Despereaux go on his way down the dungeon stairs.

At the bottom, Despereaux is stopped by Botticelli. With no other choice Despereaux is guided through the dungeon by Botticelli, and arrives to find Miggery and the princess sitting together.

He runs towards them, but Roscuro blocks his way. Despereaux threatens to kill Roscuro. Botticelli and the other rats laugh at the idea of a mouse killing a rat, and watch in anticipation of the mouse’s death.

Despereaux’s whiskers brush against Roscuro and Roscuro is all of a sudden overcome with the smell of soup. He breaks down into tears and realizes that his plan will never work; all he really wanted was some light and beauty in his life and that was his reason for kidnapping the princess. Pea promises Roscuro some soup if he would let them all go.

The story has a fairy tale ending: Roscuro is allowed to move freely from the darkness of the dungeon to the light of the upstairs. Miggery Sow’s father is released and treats Miggery like a princess for the rest of his life. Despereaux became friends with Pea and has the seat of honor next to the princess. Despereaux’s parents, brother, and Hovis look on from a small crevice in the wall and see that Despereaux is alive and happy.

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•   (English) The Tale of Despereaux   •   (Español) El Cuento de Despereaux   •   (Français) Le Conte de Despereaux   •   (Deutsch) Die Geschichte Despereaux   •   (Italiana) The Tale of Despereaux   •   (Nederlands) The Tale of Despereaux   •   (Português) O Conto de Despereaux   •   (עברית) סיפורו של דספרו   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) حكاية Despereaux   •   (हिन्दी) डेस्प्रॉक्स की कहानी   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Десперо   •   (Dansk) Eventyret om Despereaux   •   (Svenska) The Tale of Despereaux   •   (Suomi) The Tale of Desperon   •   (Norsk) The Tale of Despereaux   •   (Türkçe) Despereaux Masalı   •   (Polski) Opowieść o Despereaux   •   (Româna) Povestea lui Despereaux   •   (Ceština) Příběh Despereaux   •   (Slovenský) Príbeh Despereaux   •   (Magyar) A Tale of Despereaux   •   (Hrvatski) Priča o Despereauxu   •   (български) Приказката на Десперо   •   (Lietuvos) Iš Despero Pasaka   •   (Slovenščina) Pravljica o Despereaux   •   (Latvijas) Pasaka par Despereaux   •   (eesti) Lugu Despereaux