Literature Extension Activities for The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This post is part of the 31 MORE Days of Literature Unit Studies series. You can find all of the links to the thirty-one studies in this post. If you’d like to use these ideas to create your own unit study, this post has step-by-step instructions as well as a free unit study planner. (Want to know more about what, exactly, a unit study is? This post will help.)

While you’re reading and working on your unit study, you can download this free printables pack of graphic organizers for reading. It has a plot chart, venn diagram, KWL chart, two mini book report organizers, a character analysis chart, a plot outline chart, and a reading response sheet where students can record facts while reading.

The Tale of Despereaux literature unit
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One of my favorite books that I’ve ever read aloud to my kids is The Tale of Despereaux. It’s a beautiful story that’s all about the power of love and the importance of being who you really are. Those can be some deep themes to talk about with kids. But the book itself can be enjoyed just for the great story, even by younger kids.

Book Information

Author- Kate DiCamillo
Recommended ages- 1st-6th grade
Synopsis- Despereaux is a small mouse with very (very) large ears. He lives in a castle. And he’s not like all the other mice. Besides looking and acting different than the others, Despereaux also discovers that he likes to read stories, fairy tales. Then he makes himself even more different when he falls in love with a human- the princess.
Despereaux is punished when he decides to make himself known to the princess because he’s broken one of the cardinal rules for the mice- no human contact. He’s banished to a greatly feared place: the dungeon. It’s the residence of the palace rats…and criminals. He’s terrified and discouraged, but the adventures are just beginning for Despereaux. 
In the dungeon lives a horrible rat who has long had it in for the castle residents, all because of a bowl of soup. When the rat, along with an orphaned serving girl become a threat to the princess Despereaux loves, the little mouse learns about the power of love and how brave he really is.

Extension Activities

~Character Analysis: Use the character analysis chart in the free printables pack above to analyze Despereaux’s character. He’s quite a spunky little mouse!
~Critical Thinking: Ask kids who their favorite character in the book is and why. Although Despereaux is the main character, there are certainly some interesting characters in the book.
~Comparisons: Use the Venn diagram from the free printables pack to compare the characters of Despereaux and Roscuro and to compare Pea and Miggory Sow.
~Differences between mice and rats abound throughout this story. Research mice and then rats with the kids. You can print a mouse template from this page and a rat template from this page. Use each for the kids to record facts as you learn about mice and rats.
       Learn about mice from these sites:
     Learn about rats from these sites:
~Use the Shmoop site to get detailed information about The Tale of Despereaux to discuss with the kids. You can find detailed character information, themes, and chapter summaries. You can also find discussion question suggestions and writing suggestions that you can use depending on the ages of the kids.
~Use these free printable pages from Walking by the Way for copywork while you’re reading the book.
~A movie is never quite as good as the book, but The Tale of Despereaux is a pretty well done movie that you can enjoy after reading the book. (It’s also a great critical thinking skill to compare the movie and the book.
~In celebration of the end of the book, make some soup! This post from Annie’s Art Book has a soup recipe especially for The Tale of Despereaux. 
~Make a styrofoam mouse with the instructions here.
~These cute activity pages go along primarily with the movie but would be fun to use after reading the book as well.

Literature unit study for The Tale of Despereaux


Castle by David Macaulay is a book with great illustrations that help readers picture what life was like in a castle.
Castle, the DK Eyewitness Book is another great book for helping readers to pictures castles and what life was like inside them.

Squeak’s Guide to Caring for Your Pet Rats or Mice by Isabel Thomas is about owning mice and rats as pets, but would be good for your discussion of rats and mice.
If you love The Tale of Despereaux, check out some of Kate DiCamillo’s other books. (We love the Mercy Watson books!)

Don’t miss the other literature units in this series!

Literature unit studies for kids

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