Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

FloraUlyssesNewberry Award winner for 2014!

The thing that first caught my eye about this book was the title, because it has a subtitle where it says “The Illuminated Adventures.” I love the word “illuminated.” It sounds more regal than “illustrated,” doesn’t it? This book is illustrated though, more than a chapter book, but less than a graphic novel or comic, and the illustrations are adorable.  If I had a daughter, I couldn’t help but think she’d look just like Flora.

Flora is a self-described cynic. That means she has a hard time putting her trust in people and the world around her, and when we meet her newly divorced parents, we can seen why she has adopted this outlook. Her father is nervous and awkward, constantly and repeatedly introducing himself to people he already knows. Her mother is a writer and a chain-smoker, always hunched over her typewriter and does not have much to offer to Flora for emotional support. You definitely get the idea that Flora is a lonely child. Flora loves to read, in particular a comic book that sounds amazing called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You,” which contributes to her cynical outlook.

One day when she is watching out her bedroom window, she sees the neighbor chasing her new super-powered vacuum cleaner out into the yard. Flora is horrified when the vacuum sucks up a squirrel and runs outside to help. The squirrel is saved and he miraculously lifts the heavy vacuum up over his head! Flora names him Ulysses, after the machine that somehow gave him his superpowers, and takes him home to discover that the little guy has some more hidden talents as well. Flora’s mom does not react well to having a squirrel in the house though, and so begins a mission to save Ulysses.

Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham of the vacuum cleaner mayhem, has a nephew staying with her. He goes by his first and last name all the time, William Spiver, and he is always wearing sunglasses. He claims to be blind, but it turns out he has his own backstory to overcome. Mrs. Tickham and William turn out to be Flora’s biggest allies. I love that they are so willing to believe in Ulysses and his impossible feats, and they were my favorite part of this book.

Everyone learns something on this journey, as they have their eyes and hearts opened by this magical little squirrel. The one thing I do wish for is that we had been given a little more about Flora’s parents, because their resolution is unclear and I’d like to know how it impacted Flora in the long-term.  I enjoyed this book, but I’m not sure I would have chosen it for the Newberry Award. That might be because it feels so different from Kate DiCamillo’s other books. Read them all, see for yourself, compare and contrast! Maybe a poetry-writing squirrel will inspire you to make your own comic book someday, but mostly just read it because it is a fun story.

Flora and Ulysses has an AR level of 4.3 and is worth 5 points.

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