“Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!” is a favorite phrase in Flora and Ulysses and one I uttered after I read it. Perhaps I should have anticipated loving Flora and Ulysses as much as I did. After all, I have enjoyed every other book I have read by this prolific juvenile fiction author, Kate DiCamillo was recently named and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and the book won this year’s Newbery Award. But I had trouble getting excited about reading a book about a squirrel and a girl from a broken home. Was I ever wrong! This book is a delight.
The story begins with a vacuum, a brand new Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000x vacuum that Mrs. Tickham is exploring in her backyard. When she flips the switch, a squirrel is in the vacuum’s path and is sucked inside. Mrs. Tickham screams until her neighbor and the book’s heroine, Flora Belle Buckman arrives on the scene and rescues the squirrel and changes her and the Tickham’s forever. You see, being vacuumed did something to the squirrel. It made him feel awake, special; it even gave him special powers. He could understand Flora, he had super strength, he could fly, and he could type…poetry! Flora names the squirrel after the vacuum that transformed him, Ulysses. She immediately equates her squirrel’s ability with that of her favorite comic book superhero, The Amazing Incandesto and uses the comic as a guide for maneuvering through life with a super squirrel. Told mostly in prose, the story is enhanced with comic-style vignettes that mostly give a visual depiction of Ulysses accomplishing amazing feats.
Perhaps the most amazing feat is that this book is about more than a superhero squirrel. It is about Flora dealing with her parent’s recent divorce, her parents dealing very badly with their recent divorce and their melancholy daughter, the Tickhams taking in their nephew William Spiver since he cannot deal with this mother’s new boyfriend, and a very wise neighbor dealing with the loss of her husband. All of this is packed into an extremely quick read that would be an appropriate read aloud for the whole family as long as everyone can see the pictures. The plot is exciting, the deeper issues are layered so that they are accessible to mature readers, but not disturbing to younger readers, and the character are easy to identify with. All in all, Flora and Ulysses is not a book to be missed.
Posted by: Kelly