Newberry Award winner Kate DiCamillo’s latest story, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, is one of a girl and her superhero squirrel. She creates a cast of quirky characters that slowly rolls out through mishaps, disappointments, as well as small victories.
Flora Belle Buckman is a bit of an outsider and self-proclaimed cynic living with her mother. She spends much of her time reading. Flora often references her favorite superhero comic and a work of nonfiction titled "Terrible Things Can Happen To You!"
One afternoon, Flora’s reading is disturbed by the sound of neighbors vacuuming their yard. This strikes Flora as very odd so she decides to investigate the occurrence. As she looks out her window, Flora witnesses a squirrel being vacuumed up.
After the incident, we gain the unusual vantage of the squirrel’s perspective.
“His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.”
Not only has the squirrel has gained in consciousness but also in super rodent powers. He is surprisingly now strong enough to pick up the out of control vacuum and lift it over his tiny head. Other abilities come into play with flying being the least remarkable. Flora finds herself drawn to care for the injured squirrel and decides to name him Ulysses, likening his transformation to that of the hero in her beloved comic.
We are introduced to a whole host of characters that occupy Flora’s life:
- Phyllis Buckman, her mother, an often preoccupied recently divorced romance novelist. She takes up a campaign to snuff out the squirrel and hands her ex-husband the shovel to do it with thus cementing her status as the villain of the book.
- George Buckman, her socially anxious father, who bonds with his daughter by using comic book catchphrases such as “Holy unanticipated occurrences” and “This malfeasance must be stopped.”
- Tootie Tickham, the neighbor who is constantly vacuuming.
- William Spiver, the great-nephew of Tootie, who is temporarily (though questionably) blind.
- Mary Ann, an ornamental shepherdess lamp. She is quite possibly treasured more than Flora by Phyllis.
I was endeared to the pencil drawings of K.G. Campbell that "illuminate" Flora and Ulysses. They have a soft and kind quality that mirror the way the characters in the story slowly begin to interact with one another. Sometimes scenes are enacted in comic panels and other times small or full page illustrations accent DiCamillo’s writing.
It wasn't until the very last page that I felt the overall effect. It wasn’t nearly the tearjerker that was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or as great an adventure as The Tale of Despereaux but it left me with a happy feeling and a definite tendency to look a little closer at the squirrels.
Make sure to check out the book’s website, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses.
If you are interested in Kate DiCamillo and her other works, visit her website.
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