Prompts and resources:
Just longing for something doesn't make it happen or make it real.
When Kate DiCamillo was lonely for the company of a dog and her landlord wouldn't allow pets, she imagined one for herself instead. The big friendly dog she invented turned out to be Winn-Dixie, the title character of the Newbery Award winning Because of Winn-Dixie.
But even a pretend dog is real work for the imagination. You have to pay close attention to how dogs act, smell, and feel. You have to watch people with dogs and listen to what people say to dogs and about them. Kate DiCamillo's characters, whether they are dogs, mice, rats, princesses or just people, are created with very real feelings and longings of their own. Kate credits her ability to create such complex characters to her willingness to take the time to look and listen to the world around her.
Our Exquisite Prompts inspired by Kate DiCamillo focus on The Tale of Despereaux, but also come from Kate's good advice about paying attention to the world around us.
Prompt for grades K-2 (Level I)
Despereaux is a mouse, Mercy Watson is a pig, and Winn-Dixie is a dog. Kate DiCamillo often features animals as central characters in her books. Think of an animal that you would like to be and write a funny story about your animal. What is the animal? How big is it? What does it do all day? Where does it live? Is it a wild animal or a pet? Because you are writing a make-believe story, your animal can talk if you want it to. Or your animal can do things that humans can do, like drive a car or read a book.
Prompt for grades 3-5 (Level II)
For the queen in The Tale of Despereaux, it was soup. Soup was her very favorite food and after her death, the king outlawed it and any cooking utensils needed to make it. In the Kingdom of Dor, when you thought of soup, you thought of the queen. But soup was also remembered for the warm comfort it gives. Describe your own favorite food in sumptuous detail. Try to make people reading about your favorite food feel like they are about to sit down and eat it with you. Use all your senses to describe it and write about your food's color, shape, size, flavor, texture, smell, and how it sounds when you eat it. Include how your favorite food makes you feel. Does your favorite food remind you of someone or of a special memory?
Prompt for grades 6-8 (Level III)
Kate DiCamillo was prompted to write The Tale of Despereaux by an eight-year-old friend who asked for "the story of an unlikely hero" who's got "exceptionally large ears." That was all the information he offered. It was up to her to define the hero and tell his story. How would you define "hero?" Write an essay about what makes a person a hero. Provide your ideas about the characteristics of a real life hero and include at least one example of an historical or contemporary figure who you consider to be a hero.
Prompt for grades 9-12 (Level IV)
You know from reading fairy tales that they are not necessarily about fairies. You may also know that they are part of folklore, often set in the very distant past. While they are hard to define, fairy tales are often short, easy stories to remember with characters clearly identified as "good" or "evil." The Tale of Despereaux is very much like a fairy tale, with animals that can speak and a great quest for its hero. But the "happily ever after" in The Tale of Despereaux is more realistic than perfect. Write your own fairy tale where an impossible wish isn't granted but everything comes out all right in the end-but just all right, not happily ever after.