Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
By Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press, 2013
Reviewed from paperback
Audience: Grades 4 to 8
Publication Date: September 1, 2013
Holy Bagumba! Comic-lover and cynic Flora sees a squirrel in danger of being sucked up by a runaway vacuum cleaner and steps in to save the day. And because Flora reads comics, she's knows what to do in an emergency, but also knows that the smallest incident can cause a hero to be born, and such is the case with simple squirrel turned superhero, Ulysses. Because of this squirrel, Flora gets to know her neighbor and her great-nephew William Spiver, learns her mother is a villain, but maybe rather misunderstood and sees her father smile again. While not heavy-handed, this novel is beautiful, funny, and engaging, and the squirrel is perfection! A wonderful Newbery selection that will be an easy sell to readers.
I love Scholastic Weekly Reader! Ali gets it at school so that means I get books too! This paperback was only $5, so while Ali won't be reading it for another year or two (because she is a genius baby-wink wink), I wanted to read it. Happily, my copy does not have the double-edged Newbery Award sticker. Double-edged because it can simultaneously attract and deflect readers. Newbery-esque has become an adjective meaning "a weighty and heavy-handed novel in which the main character's mother, father, pet, sister, second cousin or mailman dies as a plot device serving only to make readers cry. See also Bridge-to-Terabithia-ish". But a Newbery sticker also serves as a quick and dirty reader's advisory tool for teachers, librarians and parents everywhere, meaning "here read this, the experts said it's good!".
But let's all be honest, Kate DiCamillo doesn't need a sticker. She doesn't need a Newbery, just like Mo Willems doesn't need another Geisel Award. Kate DiCamillo is the Newbery Award, and justly. Her books are lovely and heartfelt and perfect and funny and make me never want to write a word because I just can't measure up.
Flora is a delight. She's a cynic yes, but she starts to open her heart up to possibilities once she meets Ulysses. It's like she suddenly discovers that the world she loves in her comic books is possible. William Spiver makes an interesting side character because he is intensely annoying, but likable. Flora's father (George Buckman, how do you do?) is quite lovable, and it's beautiful to see him open up to Flora after he discovers that Ulysses is a superhero squirrel.
Ulysses might be the best squirrel in children's literature today and this is coming from a big Scaredy Squirrel fan! Ulysses eyes are opened to the world and his delight in it is so refreshing. I love his squirrel poetry and I think that would be a wonderful writing exercise for a class.
Honestly, I loved the whole book, once I had 30 solid minutes to sit down and read it. At first I was reading in fits and starts and it just didn't work, but once I was able to carve out some time, it was perfect. This would be my new go-to Newbery book. And it's a bit easier of a read than my old favorite Holes.
Five beautiful, perfect stars to Flora and Ulysses! I may just leave it in Ali's crib for her to absorb as she sleeps, but I am sure that she would just gnaw on it.