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Literature Unit Study for The Tale of Despereaux (Poppins Book Nook)

Leah Courtney
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This month's Poppins Book Nook is all about books that have been made into movies. As it just so happens, I picked up our copy of The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo a few months ago and realized that it was one of those books I'd read with the big kids but never with the little ones. And so I read it little by little at bedtime for Ashlyne and Rachel. The Tale of Despereaux is a beautiful story about bravery and love and being yourself- even when it isn't what everyone else is. Although it's a kids' book with kids as the main characters, it's a story that can speak to any of us- no matter our age. And so, for this month's Poppins Book Nook, I found some fun activities to go along with the book.

Literature unit study ideas for The Tale of Despereaux

About The Tale of Despereaux...

The story is one of a young mouse- Despereaux- who is not at all what his family expects. He's very small and rather sickly. And instead of wanting to learn to act like a mouse, he's always daydreaming and discovers he loves to read fairly tales. He also breaks the laws of mousedom by talking to and befriending a human- the princess who lives in the castle where Depereaux and the other mice reside. Despereaux's punishment: the dungeon. But little does he know that before it's all over, he'll have the chance to be a hero like the ones in the book he loves. With an evil rat, a serving girl who's struggled to remain hopeful despite her desperate life, and a princess who is Despereaux's love, the story is one of bravery, love, and hope in the face of hopelessness.

Our Tale of Despereaux activities...

Make a mouse

Because the book features mice and, of course, Depereaux himself is a mouse, we made felt mice.

You'll need:

  • mouse colored felt
  • yarn or pipe cleaners for tail
  • a mouse template on paper
  • fabric markers
  • scissors
  • hole punch
I cut the mouse template out and let the girls trace it on to the felt using the fabric markers. Ashlyne actually decided to free hand her mouse.

The girls then drew a face on the mouse with the fabric markers. On my template mouse, I drew as if I were looking down at him. Rachel chose to draw as if he were looking up. You could use wiggly eyes as the mouse eyes if you had some handy.

Using the hole punch, we punched holes in the back end of our mice. Then Ashlyne chose yarn and Rachel chose a pipe cleaner to twist through the hole as a tail. The nice thing about the pipe cleaner was that it could twist up like a wiggly tail.

Chicken noodle soup

In the story, soup is outlawed. In fact, soup is the reason that the princess in our story- Princess Pea- no longer has a mother. (You'll have to read the book to learn why.) Because soup plays a rather central part in the story, we decided to make chicken noodle soup. I adapted this recipe because (1) I have kids who don't like carrots and onions and (2) I was working with what we had on hand. So here's a look at our chicken noodle soup.


  • 1 cup of chopped, cooked chicken (I had two extra cooked tenderloins in the freezer from a recipe I made for supper.)
  • Minced onion (enough to equal about 3 onions)
  • 1/2 tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 1 32oz carton of chicken broth (I make sure mine is gluten free and msg free.)
  • 8 oz. of gluten free noodles (I used spaghetti noodles.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
The girls and I added all the ingredients to a medium sized soup pot, brought to a boil, covered and simmered for ten minutes. It actually turned out fairly tasty, despite our changes.

Other activity ideas...

  • Despereaux and his family, along with a whole mouse village, live in a castle. Take some time to read about castles with the excellent David Macaulay book, Castle.
  • Despereaux discovers he loves stories when he comes upon a book of fairy tales in the castle library. Read a popular fairy tale or two and then have kids write their own- either an adaptation of a classic or a new creation.
  • Soup features prominently in the story. Search out the internet and choose some soup recipes to make into a recipe book. Let kids design the cover; print the recipes; and then choose one to make for supper.
  • As Despereaux learns, there are some not very nice parts of living in a castle- the dungeon for instance. For a humorous view of what life was really like in a medieval castle, read You Wouldn't Want to Live in a Medieval Castle!: A Home You'd Rather Not Inhabit by Jacqueline Morley.
  • When you've finished reading the book, check out the movie- The Tale of Despereaux. It isn't as good- of course!- and there are a few main differences in the story line. But it's a fairly good one.

I hope you enjoy The Tale of Despereaux. It's an excellent one to read out loud because it's just a great story and because there are so many good themes to discuss. Don't forget to stop by the other cohosts and check out more books that have been made into movies for this month's book club.

Proverbial Homemaker

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. She’s graduated two teens- one who’s a legal adult now! And she’s still homeschooling two middle schoolers. She loves all things book related, and in her- very rare- free time you can find her listening to audiobooks and coloring.


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