Book Review: 'Flora and Ulysses: An Illuminated Adventure' by Kate DiCamillo
There is magic in the "what-if" and no one illuminates that magic better than Kate DiCamillo. Ms. DiCamillo has been selected as the 2015 National Summer Reading Champion highlighting the theme "Every Story has a Hero." DiCamillo's books explore the vast possibilities of what-if. Her most recent book, "Flora and Ulysses: An Illuminated Adventure," 2013 Candlewick Press, explores the outer realms of possibility with an unlikely hero born from a tragic accident.
Flora Belle, an only child of divorced parents, avid reader and self proclaimed cynic, is obsessed with the comic book series The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto. Flora rescues a squirrel from an indoor/outdoor vacuum cleaner in her neighbor's yard, performs CPR and saves his life. Flora is certain that Ulysses, as the squirrel comes to be known, is destined to become a superhero vanquishing evil everywhere he goes or something like that. Ulysses and Flora, along with Tootie, Flora's neighbor and William Spiver, Tootie's great nephew, form an unlikely partnership filled with excitement and adventure. All the while this motley crew discovers magical what-ifs that force them to examine their beliefs and give new meaning to their lives.Through the story, Flora, William Spiver, Tootie and various other characters are drawn together because of Ulysses' antics. The adventures they have unlock secrets and friendships among everyone they encounter.
What makes this book stand out to me is the use of comic book elements throughout the text. I would describe Flora and Ulysses as a juvenile novel with comic book tendencies. Comic style illustrations and full page sketches add depth and appeal to all readers. I am not a comic book reader, but I love the capes, alter egos and supernatural elements of classic comic book literature. Those classic elements bring Flora and Ulysses to life in a modern setting for today's younger readers. Readers will meet classical comic heroes and villains and be exposed to the amazing language typical of vanquishing evil and saving mankind. Last summer, my family listened to the audio version of Flora and Ulysses while road tripping through New Hampshire. The characters and exclamations from the story became part of our family for that week.
My children still shout out phrases upon occasion. "Holy Bagumba!", "This malfeasance must be stopped" and "Holy unanticipated occurrences" are just some examples of the hilarious exclamations throughout the story. DiCamillo's use of language and illustration make this novel stand out in the sea of juvenile literature. Flora and Ulysses is a great read-a-loud story for families and is appropriate for all ages.
Throughout the story, Flora questions her cynicism. She reminds herself "do not hope; instead, observe." As Flora discovers new people and experiences, hope is rekindled. Even natural born cynics can change. Friendship, belief in the good and laugh out loud humor make Flora and Ulysses a book worthy of superhero status. Check out Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo at your local library and discover "Every Story has a Hero."