“He was going to leave the world without ever having tried a
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (2013) by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Suggested age range: 7 and up (Candlewick Press, 232 pages)
Rating: 5/5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“It is what I love about life, that things happen which I do not expect.” (210)
The Book: Comic-loving cynic, ten year old Flora watches her neighbor’s brand new vacuum suck up a squirrel. She races to its aid, and lo and behold, she gives it CPR! The squirrel starts breathing again, and somehow, he is now a superhero squirrel! Flora dubs him Ulysses, and this begins a series of hilarious adventures in which Ulysses reveals that he can fly, “conquer villains, defend the defenseless, and help the weak.” Can Ulysses escape Flora’s mother who wants to kill him? What’s the deal with the partially blind boy, William Spiver, who follows Flora around? Aware that the miraculous is taking place, Flora does everything she can to assist Ulysses in his adventures and most of all, love him. A squirrel who writes poetry on the typewriter, Ulysses is a character readers can’t afford not to meet!
Spirituality in Flora & Ulysses: Flora’s spirituality, her awareness that there is more to the world than she knows, is nurtured and energized through the revealing of Ulysses, the superhero squirrel. Through the events that follow, Flora discovers that hoping is a good thing, and that she doesn’t always have to be a cynic. “Do not hope, Flora thought. But she couldn’t help it. She did hope. She was hoping. She had been hoping all along” (200).
There is also the aspect of the story that speaks to the way we look at and attempt to understand other people. Are our judgments based on appearances or do we have the courage to take a deeper look into the souls of those around us? Like her other books, DiCamillo’s fantasy reflects multiple spiritual aspects that deserve closer exploration.
Exploring this Book with Readers: Readers, young and old, can probably relate to having a beloved pet. A beloved pet who is secretly a superhero may not be as common, but readers could write their own short story about their pet as superhero. Ulysses is an endearing character, and poses questions about the world readers may or may not have thought about. Which questions of Ulysses did readers wonder about and which ones would they have asked? DiCamillo includes a dose of philosophy in her story, so there is room for some good discussion with the book.
The Final Word: The wild adventures of Flora and Ulysses are fabulous! This is definitely a Newbery winner, and I am in complete agreement with the committee who decided this book should win the award. Flora works through issues with her parents, makes a new friend, and learns how to say “I love you.” Ulysses just about dies, is resurrected, and emerges a superhero, but yet he is totally dependent on Flora’s love for him. These themes make this book a winner all around.