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Andersen Library

October 4, 2015

Digital Portfolio - The Tale of Desperaux

Kate DiCamillo introduces a hero for all time!

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. And what happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: “Reader, it is your destiny to find out.”

Lesson Overview

This lesson focuses on the drafting process for Kate DiCamillo in her book The Tale of Despereaux (2003). Students will read three different versions of the opening of the novel, at first studying only one draft in a small group, and then coming together with the rest of the class to look at three documents (jigsaw). After responding to and discussing the texts separately, students will compare their version of the opening to the other drafts in a whole class discussion in order to speculate on the evolution of the final story.


Upon completion of this lesson students will be able to:

  • Examine a piece of writing closely, looking at how details about setting and characters help to build tone (or, more generally, how they affect reader response)
  • Compare drafts of a carefully crafted document at various stages of development
  • Speculate about possible reasons for and effects of changes to the document through several drafts

Common Core Standards

This resource meets the following Common Core Standards as defined by the Common Core State Standards Initiative:

Reading Literature

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1 – Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.3 – Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.1, 5.2, 5.3 Key ideas and details, especially 5.3 – Compare and contrast two or more characters, settings, or events in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1, 6.2, 6.3 Key ideas and details, especially 6.3 – Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes, as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

Time Required

One to two classes

Recommended Grade Level

Grades 3 through 6, best for 4 through 6

Lesson Preparation

This lesson is meant to be an introduction to close reading and textual analysis, as well as an opportunity to read aesthetically and imagine different ways that the story might be made visually. It is best used with students who have a basic understanding of fairy and folk stories of any culture, although this setting is the Western fairy tale. It would be possible to undertake this activity at any point during the reading of The Tale of Despereaux.


Have the requisite materials ready before the activity:

  • Document 1: Beginning – early draft of Despereaux. The Tale of Despereaux (p. 1 only). The first page contains two chapters. The first chapter begins: “The castle was not beautiful” and ends with “This is the story of Queen Juliet.”
  • Document 2: Beginning of Despereaux (draft). The Tale of Despereaux (p. 1). The first chapter only, which begins: “The castle was beautiful” and ends with “It is the story of a mouse, a brave one. His name is Despereaux.”
  • The Tale of Despereaux (2003). Excerpt from Ch. 1 – “A Mouse is Born.” This is the final, published version of the text. If you are asking students to think about which version came first, second, and last, you may wish to use a copy of this page, rather than the book itself.


Before leading students through the activity, teachers should make themselves familiar with DiCamillo’s three opening segments and think about what is revealed about her drafting process. The early drafts of famous stories are not usually available to the public for the simple reason that they have been rejected in favor of something that the writer and editor finds to be (hopefully) better. This lesson demonstrates the often repeated idea that authors should expect to change their first drafts. Revision isn’t very exciting for writers of most ages, and young writers often feel satisfied with their first attempt. One advantage of unveiling the process is to see that DiCamillo’s changes were significant, and to notice how unsettled and flexible she was throughout the first drafts.

Primary Source Documents

All documents in the collection are parts of drafts or notes donated to the Kerlan Collection by the author (Kate DiCamillo).

Beginning - early draft of Despereaux

Beginning - later draft of Despereaux


Digital Portfolio Design: Lisa Von Drasek, CLRC Curator