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I have to say this is the first rodent book I’ve read aimed at audiences so
young (ages 2-6). That said, I may not be the foremost autho-rat-y on how it
stacks up against others of its kind. What’s more, it doesn’t have any rat
characters at all – but, like The Tale of Desperaux reviewed
below, it does feature the cutest little mouse…which is a close enough ratlative
for a mom like me to enjoy it just the same! And, having had 15 kids of my own,
I know the subject matter of a little one wanting something so badly it’s all he
talks or dreams about, is one moms of rat, mouse – or, I suppose even human –
children, can universally relate to. Of course, my kids always seemed to dream
about things like ice cream, or cake with sugary icing or – oh my, I’m making
myself start dreaming of those things! Well, I’ve heard it said apples
don’t fall very far from the tree, so it’s not too hard to imagine my kids were
always thinking of (wonderful, delectable) food!!!
Back to this story, though, the little mouse in it is named Marshall, and
he’s very good at playing ball – not the kind of ball my Clancy used to play as
a kid (which was picking a ball up with his teeth, tossing it a short distance
away, retrieving it, then starting all over again -- that’s a picture of him
sleeping by his favorite ball once he got tired). No, Marshall plays “real”
ball, like human kids do – the kind that involves being very fast at running
bases and such. So, when he sees the most lovely pair of green high-top
sneakers like human kids wear for this game – well, he's sure he needs those as
much as my kids needed tasty treats!
Even though his mom and dad and the uncles he lives with know he doesn’t “need”
sneakers or anything else to be a better ball player – or to be more “special”
(as he thinks the shoes will make him) – being kind, doting family members, they
still want to make his wish come true. So, they actually manage to sew a
pair of green high-tops just for him as a surprise. And, Marshall does get a
surprise – but not exactly the one he was expecting.
I don’t want to say any more than that and give away the whole story. But,
I can tell you there are a bunch of different ways to look at the tale and a lot
of different lessons different folks might take away from it. And, the pictures
are adoratble – particularly of his beautiful mom, Mabel (who wears a
string of pearls just like the ones on my favorite Christmas dress!) and very
funny dad, Mortimer (who wears glasses! I must say I could use a pair of those
– we rats don’t have the best eyesight, you know…). And, the ones of Marshall
jumping around when he first puts on his high-tops are simply rat – uh, I guess
I mean, mouse-tastic!
In closing, I have to say thanks to the author and her representative on
facebook for holding the drawing that won me this book as the prize. As I told
them, it’s not easy for a rat to pick out her own books at the library. Far too
many humans just don’t understand how wonderful we are…and I’ve learned that the
sight of me sometimes causes quite a stir! Maybe with a few more books that
show rodents can be as cute as Marshall, all that will change one day. In the
meantime, though, you humans reading this can go buy your own copy at the
bookstore. But I warn you – although no one is likely to scream when they see
you there, you might squeal with delight when you get home and meet Marshall,
his family, and the ladies who’ve created them. That said --proceed at your own
When I heard The Tale of Despereaux would soon be
coming out as a movie a few weeks ago, I pulled out the (dreaded) book (buried
deep under the bedding of my nest) and wrote a review on it. The reason I did
this was to set the record straight that rats aren’t mean, ugly horrible
creatures whose only purpose in life is to make others suffer and who could
never appreciate light or beauty or kindness or – oh, there goes my fur all
standing up on end again at the very thought of the author’s nonsense. Anyway,
sorry about getting carried away and screeching so fast about all that. Today
I’m supposed to be talking about the film which shares the book’s name – and, of
course, the title character: an exceptionally small mouse with exceptionally
big ears, who’s born without any of the fears characteristic of his society, and
who dreams of becoming an honorable and courageous knight like the one he reads
about in a book he’s supposed to be eating instead. Thankfully, however, that’s
about where the similarities end. That said, I’ll try to smooth my fur out one
more time and tell you a little bit about this other – and from a rat’s
perspective – much better rodent tale.
At first, though, I have to admit I wasn’t so sure I’d be able to say
that. While the opening scene, which takes place on a ship, promised the rat-dapters
had changed the story a great deal, part of the scene features narration that
says, “Rats are incapable of telling the truth.” Oh! As it turned out, this
was pretty easy to forgive when the next several minutes of the action introduce
us to the rat, Roscuro (dressed in the cutest little pirate outfit!) and not
only make the audience really like him, but also feel for the terrible
predicament in which he finds himself – and spend the whole time on the edge of
their seats hoping he gets out of it!
It’s only after Roscuro is firmly established as a beloved main character
of his own (and one whose trouble springs from nothing more than becoming a wee
bit too excited about food – and, oh boy, is that something I can relate to!)
that we meet the little mouse, Despereaux – who, as the best part of the book,
is even more adorable when brought to life on screen. Here, however, the extent
of his different-ness from the other mice is illust-rat-ed in greater detail,
and unlike in the book, his parents (and even his brother Furlough) are
genuinely caring about him from the start. It’s also particularly wonderful to
see him actually reading the book he’s been left in the library to eat (he runs
up and down the hills and valleys along the lines of printing, savoring each
word), and to watch (when charged with the unenviable task of helping Despereaux
act more like a mouse) how utterly futile are poor Furlough’s efforts to teach
him to be afraid.
Despereaux, as it turns out, has much to teach the mouse society – and some
other species, too – but because (as the film points out) a hero only appears
when a need for him arises, circumstances in the kingdom are pretty dire when he
shows up. But, Despereaux, immersed in his own world of chivalrous adventures
and a love of everything around him, barely notices the pervasive gloom – until,
enchanted by the beauty of a princess and a piece of the book he’s been reading
suddenly come to life in the form of her friendship, things at last grow pretty
dark for Despereaux himself.
That’s where we meet Roscuro once again – and where the movie deviates
tremendously once more from the book. While I don’t want to give away too much
before you see it for yourself – and see it you should – I’ll just say it’s out
of this darkness that begins a common journey back to the light, not only for
Despereaux and Roscuro, but the entire kingdom of Dor. It must be added that
it’s a rather strange journey in many ways, featuring one particularly strange
character who isn’t even mentioned in the book, and a very different role for
another – and a somewhat different ending for all.
The Tale of Despereaux doesn’t compare
with Ratatouille, in my opinion (not that any other movie I’ve seen comes
close), nor does it feature quite that level of rat-istry – I mean, artistry
in its creation. If you’ve got a rodent tail dear to your heart, however, I’d
say it’s nonetheless well worth the trip to the theater – and I expect that even
though I’ve already seen it myself, I’ll be scampering out for a copy when it
comes out on DVD.
Well, I could say more, but I think I smell…mmm – soup! Enjoy the movie.
actually first read this book a very long time ago – which probably makes you
wonder why I didn’t review it way back then. Well, to tell you the truth, I
didn’t really want to talk about it.
All this time later, however, someone has made a movie out of it…and that
means lots of hu-men and hu-women will be talking about it soon. So, at last, I
think I have no choice but to offer a real rat’s point of view about a work that
is unmistakably fiction.
Based on that introduction, you’re probably thinking that if I had to give
The Tale of Despereaux a rating it would surely be two paws down. But,
to tell you the truth, it would really be more like one paw way down, and
another way up in the air.
You see, there are a lot of things I like a whole lot about this story –
such as its ratcognition “that an interesting fate…awaits almost everyone, mouse
or man, who does not conform.” Even more, I like that its main character has a
great appreciation for literature (like me!), and that he learns from just one
experience how wonderful interaction with hu-people can be. And, I don’t even
really mind that this main character’s a mouse (especially since he really is an
incredibly charming one). What I do mind, however, is that throughout the
entire book, rats are said to be evil and ugly and hideous and that our
tails are “scaly and cold” – like “a small, narrow snake”! Can you imagine?
Oh! I was so hor-rat-fied when I read those words I almost shut the book and
took a big bite out of it right there. The problem is, just when that paragraph
pops up, Despereaux is in a real predicament – and, as that mouse hero himself
points out, if one eats the pages it “ruins the story”. So, I just took a
minute to try and smooth out my fur that was standing up all over, and then went
back to try and finish my reading.
That said, I suppose I should tell all of you a little bit about
this story, shouldn’t I? Well, it starts out with the birth of an exceptionally
tiny mouse who isn’t at all like the other mice in his society. These do, in
fact, eat books, but he refuses because he wants to read them instead. And,
wouldn’t you know the first book he reads is about a knight who rescues a
princess living in a big castle – just like the castle Despereaux lives in
himself! As usual in my reviews, I don’t want to ruin the story for you by
feeding big bites of it to you here, so let it suffice to say, this whole
circumstance of being different, and reading and living with (and not just
living with, but falling in love with) a princess gets Despereaux into a
whole lot of trouble. There’s also a rat named Roscuro, who, like Despereaux,
isn’t quite the same as the rest of his kind, and who, like Despereaux, has a
special appreciation for the “light” of the human world rather than the dark
shadows of rodent existence. When this lands him (quite literally) in the soup,
and a tragedy unexpectedly results, he ends up in a whole lot of trouble, too –
not to mention causing trouble for the entire kingdom when not only are rats
suddenly outlawed, but the wonderful, comforting, delicious treat of soup is
outlawed as well.
I suppose that all sounds harmless enough as a plot outline, but what’s
really wrong with the book is that the writer has clearly never met any actual
rats – or apparently, mice for that matter, because she actually thinks that for
these creatures to embrace the darkness is to be true to their real natures. In
other words, to her it’s Despereaux and Roscuro who are the exceptions. Still,
she’ll give the benefit of the doubt that maybe a mouse could possibly be
comfortable living in a world of beauty and light, but even after acknowledging
that just maybe a rat could want these things, too, she never allows him to
fully belong where they reside.
Of course, I know the truth is it’s the evil rats living in the
castle’s dungeon who are the exceptions to what rats are like in real life
(which is also true of mice, at least in my experience.) But, that doesn’t seem
to have stopped this author from spewing all this (wrong) information (with her
facts all upside down) as if she’s some kind of expert. Why, one could fill
a book with all the things she doesn’t know. Come to think of it, that’s
exactly what she’s done! What’s worse, this book won the very prestigious
Newberry Medal, which means she’s even been rewarded for her ignorance.
Oh, how my fur starts standing up on end again when I think about the injustice
of it all… Well, now I guess you see why I didn’t want to talk about it.
Anyway, like I said, now there’s a movie based on this ratdiculous
book. So, I may just have to find a way to go see it in the hope someone with a
little more knowledge about rats and mice got involved and fixed some of these
problems in ratdapting it for the big screen. If not, you can probably imagine
the comments and mistaken ideas soon to be spreading around as fast as people
think we spread the Plague. With that in mind, I thought I’d better
squeak a little bit in advance so at least anyone who reads this might help me
set the record straight. And, of course, I’ll be back next month for my
By the way – a funny little side note to this…a cousin of mine was actually
named Despereaux after this little mouse because he was so small as a
baby. But, when he grew up he turned out to be the biggest rat anyone I know
has ever met! Maybe he read this story, too, and ate everything in sight just
to outgrow the name – or maybe it just made him so angry that he started taking
bites himself…and ended up eating the whole book!
In conclusion, then, happy reading – or, happy eating, if you
Like I said in my review of this book’s sequel (The Revenge of Randal Reese
Rat) A Rat’s Tale by Tor Seidler is probably my very fav-o-rat book
of all time…well, at least of all the rat books I’ve read to date. I’m always
open to scampering across new ones, however, so please feel free to e-mail me
(by way of my adoptive mom,
email@example.com) with any and all suggestions.
Back to this Tale, though, its main character is the sweet-tempered,
very shy Montague Mad-Rat – who just happens to also be an incredibly talented
painter (of not canvases, but shells brought back to him by his aunt from
beaches all over the world). What’s more, all the members of his family are also
artists, in one form or another – which is where they get their last name. Each
is passion-fruit-edly…oops, I mean passion-ate-ly pursuing what it is he
or she is “mad for.”
Unfortunately, not everyone outside the family is quite as mad for their
creations, their way of life – or their name. Poor Montague, however, doesn’t
know about all this when he first encounters a lovely she-rat named Isabel on a
particularly stormy New York City day. Neither does he know Isabel’s father is
the leader of the privileged wharf rats, well-groomed creatures who spend their
days seeking out coins with which to pay their annual “Rat Rent,” rather than
creeping through Central Park in search of feathers and berries to make brightly
colored creations the Mad-Rats view as truer riches.
Isabel finds Montague unusual and charming, but it’s Montague who’s so
enchanted he sets out to see her again, a quest that inadvertently lands him at
a Grand Rat Chat – a meeting of the entire wharf rat community, called by
Isabel’s father to discuss a threat sure to prove dire without immediate
rattention. Also at this event, Montague learns at last why the young wharf
rats he’s happened upon in the park laugh when he introduces himself. And, it’s
this discovery that starts him on a rodent-wheel journey of highs and lows as he
gradually comes to learn more about Isabel, his family – and himself.
Thankfully, the uppity wharf rat community learns a bit, too – like the
reason “art and rat are made up of the same letters” -- when it’s the things
made with the Mad-Rats’ paws that prove unexpectedly valuable to them.
Appropriately, it’s Isabel who begins this particular wheel turning, spurred on
by the inescapable beauty of Monty’s shells. And, it’s this willingness on her
part to bridge these different rat worlds that helps hers see how worthy of it
Montague’s family is…and proves to the rat artists that Isabel might just be
“mad” enough herself to be worthy of theirs as well
As always in my reviews, I don’t want to give too much away so have kept
the details vague. But, I will tell you that even without more than a couple
mentions of cheese – and oh yes, one reference to ham (which doesn’t appeal all
that much to me, since I’m a veg-rat-arian) – this book provides a full platter
of characters (both savory and not so) to satisfy every taste. And, even after
several helpings – I mean readings – I still find every morsel of it
(including the be-utiful drawings by Fred Marcellino) positively
All of that said, though, I have to admit that having come to love these
characters so much and having found their adventures so intriguing, I am left
more than a little hungry – for more Mad-Rat books by this author! I therefore
plan to write him very soon to request that he get on with cooking up another!
In the meantime, by all means head to your local library or cookstore – I
mean bookstore for this one. As for me, I’m heading to the kitchen for
some brain food to help me start my letter to Mr. Seidler.
While this page
is primarily for my reviews of books and films, I believe it's also an
appropriate place to share a letter I wrote in response to a TV show -- a letter
to David Letterman, who is clearly not a fan of rats. Well,
click here to read my
attempt at turning him around on that misguided point.
is a sequel to another fantastic rodent story (entitled A Rat's Tale, ,
which stars the gifted shell painter, Montague Mad-Rat) I realize I should
probably review that book first. However, because it's this later one that
introduced me to the delicious dish ratatouille -- after which my
favorite movie (reviewed below) is named -- I thought it might make sense to
follow-up my comments on that film by working backwards. After all, you already
know how carried away I can get when it comes to the topic of food! Be that as
it may, I will try to publish a review of A Rat's Tale, too, in the near
I should also mention up front that I think the original is among the most
perfectly penned masterpieces of rat fiction I've scampered across to date
(despite the fact it, sadly, doesn't contain many tasty treats). And, while
this sequel may not quite live up to that kind of praise, there's much to savor
about it nonetheless -- and I do! Not only does it re-acquaint us with
several beloved characters, it offers a whole new perspective on one I didn't
love so much the first time around...and didn't love all that much at times in
this one. But, in fairness I have to admit not everybody matures at the same
rate...and the road to growing up and finding one's place in a pretty big world
can sometimes be a rocky and confusing one.
Of course, when one comes from the world of New York City's privileged
wharf rats, there's no preparation for how to deal with the roadblock of a lowly
sewer rat (one who -- horror of all horrors, makes things with his paws,
no less) suddenly being heralded as a hero by his own high rat society...and
worse yet, finding his lovely she-rat fiancée instead
marrying this "upstart". Faced with such unprecedented humiliation, it's not
hard to imagine the title character, Randal Reese-Rat, might well wish for
ratribution. The elaborate images of this he envisions, however, do at first
shock the reader...but I have to admit amuse as well, since it becomes obvious
early on that Randal is really far more a mere brat than a true bully or
But Randal's only half the story here since this volume also introduces a
new character -- an exotic she-rat musician from Africa named Maggie. Maggie
is the cousin of the aforementioned "upstart" (daughter to his globetratting
Aunt Elizabeth) who brings her to New York for the sole purpose of attending his
(and Randal's ex-fiancée's) wedding. What's more, Maggie is so
charming and the music she creates so beautiful, her performance at the
reception actually makes the guests in attendance stop eating to share in
its joy. Of course, one witness to this who remains less than joyful is
Randal. And, since he wants nothing to do with any rat of such hated
associations, it proves a challenge to his sensibilities when he learns he and
Maggie in fact have a lot in common. Eventually, though, he's forced to admit
she's awakened a new rat within -- one who shares very little with the
egotistical creature he'd always been. In the process (one aided by other
dismaying circumstances I won't give away here) he comes to learn about a lot of
uncharted territory to be explored -- both beyond the shores of the community he
thought he knew...and within the borders of his very own he-art.
Highly ratcommended reading. Enjoy!
First I have to answer the question you're probably asking with regard to how I
could already have a review of this film when it’s not even close to coming out
on DVD…given rats aren’t allowed in movie theaters (except the animated ones on
the screen in this instance, of course!). Well, all I can say to that is mom
has a really nice knapsack-like purse big enough for me to hide in (and with
lots of little openings for air). Now, I’m not saying she put me in there and
took me to the movie theater or anything like that. I’m just saying she has a
beautifully roomy potential pet carrier and here’s my review of this recently
opened film. You can draw your own conclusions about the rest…
I’m sure it goes without saying that a movie starring rats and with a title
that’s a food starts off with a pretty strongly positive impression for me – and
pretty high expectations to live up to. And, oh boy, does it! In fact, there’s
so much to be passion-fruit about I don’t know which ratspect of it to bite off
first. I guess I should start at the beginning which is pretty exciting but
kind of scary since we see Remy breaking out of a window with a book over his
head. Although it’s obvious he’s got himself into something of
an Elvis we have to
wait for the story to back up a bit to see how that came about. And, when we do
we learn that while Remy is a rat (which he explains “means life is hard”) he’s
also a misfit in his family because he longs to not only eat tastier treats than
are usually available to his species, but he actually wants to create
them in the first place.
It’s already been established in Mom’s
review of the book
A Rat’s Tale that “rat and art are made up of the same letters”. And so,
Remy is not just a “rat” but a great “art”ist when it comes to food (hmm…I just
noticed the word “eat” is in the middle of “create”. See, there is
something to my being passion-ate or passion-fruit about things
going straight to the truth of how passion and hunger really do go together!)
But, I digress. While I don’t want to give up too much of what happens so
will keep this review short, the point of the film is that it seems Remy’s
dreams of becoming a great chef are impossible. Rats are even less welcome in
kitchens than they are in movie theaters. And, if Remy isn’t welcome in a
kitchen, how on earth is he supposed to use one to “create” good things to
“eat”. Well, that’s where faith and determination come in, in this case
Paris’ most inspired restau…rat…eur, August
Gusteau. And, when fate unexpectedly places Remy in the heart of
right under Gusteau’s
restaurant he begins
to face his greatest challenges – and catch sight of his greatest dreams.
Along the way, he learns (as do others who weren’t always convinced) that
“not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere”,
and that nothing is impossible if one is brave and follows his heart.
Maybe you remember that in one of my columns I was asked about one's
he-art vs. he-ad with
the he-ad meaning “ego”. Well, can you believe, this film actually has a
character named Ego who proves one of the most fearful threats against
Remy’s he-art?!? Oh, I just can’t say enough times how this movie simply has
everything a rat – and, from my mom and dad’s viewpoints a hu-man and hu-woman,
too – could possibly want in a movie. It’s definitely my new favorite – and boy
does its title make me hungry!
That said, I’ve gotta go….Mom’s supposed to help me pick out a recipe for
ratatouille on the internet so we can try it out together. While we’re doing
that, I suggest you go see the film Ratatouille and have the most fun
anyone possibly can… without actually eating something that looks and
sounds sooooo good.
Ratatouille is now available on DVD!!! Go rent -- or better yet
buy it NOW