Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Floracover

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 2014

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

by Kate DiCamillo

illustrated by K. G. Campbell

Age: 7+ (read aloud), 9+ (independent reading)

Interests: squirrels, superheroes, comic books, family, divorce, poetry

Candlewick Press: 2013

233 pp., 68 chapters

Also by this author: Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Tiger Rising, Mercy Watson series, Great Joy

After an unfortunate encounter with a super-powered vacuum cleaner, a squirrel’s life is saved by one Flora Belle Buckman, aged 10. Imagine her surprise when she realizes the squirrel (Ulysses) now has superpowers! Flora, a natural-born cynic, proceeds cautiously, but Ulysses leaps into his new life with vigour, daring, and the soul of a poet. What will happen next? Can he evade the terrible fate proposed by his arch-nemesis Flora’s mom?

A seemingly crazy, slapstick story co-exists with a deeper parable about melting pre-teen cynicism to find the good in the people around you – especially your parents. Flora’s parents are separated, and her relationship with both is strained. The sudden appearance of a remarkable squirrel is a further test to both her parents, especially her mother. Ulysses also brings Flora closer to her neighbours the Tickmans, and their nephew the temporarily blind William Spiver. And in the end she learns a lot about forgiveness, family, and squirrel poetry.

An excellent book for reluctant readers, this has very short chapters that move along at a good clip, with intermittent moments of comic-book style illustration of the more action-hero moments. And the wacky plot is so funny and engaging that the deeper lessons of love, loss, and need don’t come across too heavyhandedly.

The greatest lesson of all for a young readership is that of the “natural-born cynic” overcoming her own pre-teen curmudgeonliness to reach out to the people she needs, and who need her.

Apart from that, it’s just really, really funny. Flora has learned everything she knows from comic books, which gives the narrative a unique bit of colour, but makes the vocabulary a little challenging for some. (Ie.  “This malfeasance will be stopped!”, “holy unanticipated occurrences!”, “Stall! Delay! Obfuscate!”, and best of all: “Holy bagumba!”)

A great book for reluctant or rabid readers. Also good for a whole-family read-aloud, as the humour will make it appealing even to older, middle school siblings. Hilarious and profound, heartfelt and so, so well-written. Another highly recommended read from Kate DiCamillo.

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(this title available at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.