What can I say about Flora & Ulysses? It won this year’s Newbery Medal. It was written by acclaimed author Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell. And it captured my heart–and imagination–within the first few pages.
Flora & Ulysses tells the tale of Flora Belle Buckman, a self-proclaimed cynic who loves reading comic books, and a very special squirrel we come to know as Ulysses. A chance encounter with a vacuum cleaner transforms a rather unimportant little rodent into a magnificent example of squirrelkind with some very special abilities. Flora is convinced that this squirrel, Ulysses, is a superhero waiting to happen. Everyone else around her isn’t so sure.
Ulysses does, in fact, have some pretty awesome gifts. He can lift heavy vacuum cleaners over his head! He can fly! He can use a typewriter and compose lovely, misspelled poems! But does that make him superhero material? Flora sure seems to think so, and Ulysses would hate to disappoint his new favorite person.
Not everyone thinks as highly of Ulysses as Flora does. Her mother seems to be his most vicious hater. She even plots Ulysses’ demise! What’s Flora to do? Well, she enlists the help of her father, her neighbor, a couple of other unlikely characters, and her own extensive knowledge in her quest to keep Ulysses alive and kicking.
Can Flora convince her mother to abandon her treacherous villainy? Will Ulysses be able to prove that he’s got superhero potential? Will Flora abandon her cynical ways and open her heart to love, hope, and friendship with squirrels and humans alike? Read the illuminated adventures of Flora & Ulysses to find out!
Okay, so the recap above kind of stinks. It doesn’t even begin to go into everything that happened in this book. Flora’s vocabulary alone was worth at least a paragraph, and I didn’t even mention the strangeness of William Spiver, the great nephew of Flora’s neighbor. (I guess I’m taking care of that now, though, aren’t I?) There was just so much to love in this book that I couldn’t possibly encompass it in one post.
Something that did strike me in this book were how the text and illustrations flowed together to create one beautiful, seamless story. K.G. Marshall, in a few black-and-white drawings, added another layer to this story that I think a lot of comic book enthusiasts (like myself) will appreciate. (This might even go a long way in convincing parents and teachers that reading comic books IS ACTUALLY READING! I know I can use a little extra ammunition in this fight!)
If you haven’t read Flora & Ulysses, I strongly urge you to give it a try. If you’re anything like me, you’ll devour it in one sitting. You’ll fall in love with the characters just like I did…and that is saying something considering that I really don’t like squirrels.
Readers may even see themselves in one or more of the characters, strange as they may be. Personally, I identified with Flora. Why, you ask? Well, let’s see…we share the same taste in hairstyles, glasses, and shoes, and we’re both rather cynical, enjoy comic books, and have extensive vocabularies. Both of us even struggle with our cynical natures from time to time! (Sometimes people–or maybe rodents–surprise us with just how wonderful they can be.)
I wish I could do a better job of communicating just how amazing this book is, but I feel I’m falling short. Let me just say that the Newbery committee made an excellent decision this year. Flora & Ulysses is definitely medal-worthy. Bravo!
For more information on this book and others by Kate DiCamillo, visit the author’s website, and check out the Flora & Ulysses trailer below. It’s much better than any recap I could ever write.