Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures Written by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Copyright 2013, Candlewick Press 233 pages
In this 2014 Newberry Medal winner, Kate DiCamillo tells us the story of an unlikely duo; a girl and a squirrel.
The book starts off with an innocent squirrel getting sucked into the bristles of a vacuum. Witnessing this event, self-designated cynic Flora Buckman rushes outside to help. Taking what she learned from her favorite comic book series, Terrible Things Can Happen to You, she saves the squirrel’s life.
After Flora’s heroics, nothing is the same. It seems that the squirrel, who Flora names Ulysses after the vacuum cleaner, developed superpowers when he was brought back to life. He now has the ability to write poetry, lift heavy objects, and even fly! Flora decides to assist Ulysses with his newfound powers and becomes his mentor in becoming a great super hero.
Through their adventures they come across some interesting characters such as a mean neighborhood cat, a surly cook in a diner, a temporarily blind little boy, and Ulysses’ number one arch nemesis – Flora’s mother. Through Flora’s influence, Ulysses fights off these characters while remaining pure-of-heart, but there is one challenge he can’t seem to shake – his insatiable, starving stomach.
As much as Flora influences Ulysses, Flora herself is impacted as she begins to soften her hard, cynical shell. Maybe Flora will become a believer after all?
Being a self-described nerd myself, I see a lot of qualities in Flora that I would expect my future children to inherit. She enjoys comics, is speculative and curious about the world, and is introverted when it comes to making new friends. Perhaps I like her because I know a younger Kathryn Lallinger would most certainly relate to her.
The Ulysses chapters were some of my favorite. His poetry was especially funny and yet was decent poetry – you know for a squirrel. DiCamillo did an astounding job of writing Ulysses’ thought processes. I think we all know that Ulysses’ short attention-span and obsession over finding food would be accurate to a squirrel’s mindset, but DiCamillo made Ulysses loveable and almost human-like in his quests.
One thing that will impress parents with this book is the high level vocabulary. Even I had to look up some of the words that Flora used for verification of meaning. This book is a general crowd pleaser as parents will enjoy what the book offers while young readers will enjoy the sweet story and beautifully done graphics. The illustrations interspersed throughout the chapters may feel like a graphic novel, but Flora and Ulysses is far from such a distinction so parents can rejoice when their kids want to read it.
DiCamillo has written another gem in Flora and Ulysses. The dynamic duo is beautifully done and you will not be able to stop saying “aw” during their time together. I recommend this book for reluctant readers of all ages.
Kathryn Lallinger is a Children’s Library Assistant at May Memorial Public Library in Burlington. She may be reached at 336-229-3588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.