Today I’m back with a review (because suddenly I’m about 10 behind schedule. How do these add up so quickly?) of Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo.
I happened upon this novel in a Little Free Library in our neighborhood several months ago. I was super excited to check it out because I love Kate DiCamillo’s storytelling. I have reviewed The Magician’s Elephant here on my blog and read The Tale of Despereaux about a year before I started blogging. I also own The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane which I hear is one of DiCamillo’s best.
- This book was not what I expected. Part comic book, part graphic novel, part traditional novel, it’s got a little bit of everything going on. And surprisingly, DiCamillo makes the whole thing work quite well.
- I did not really know what this book was about until I decided to sit down a read it last month. One of the main characters is a squirrel (Ulysses) and that was just a bit weird for me.
According to Goodreads: “It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.”
There were things I loved about this novel and things I didn’t love. In the spirit of changing tradition genres (as this novel does), I will share my review a bit differently this time.
Things I liked about this novel:
- DiCamillo’s storytelling: She is one of the best in children’s literature! She creates such compelling stories in seemingly simple or uninteresting places. The stories are not overly complex–but they are engaging and fun to read.
- The double genre of novel and graphic novel: This was so clever and made reading the novel fun. I think it also would limit the experience of listening to an audiobook of this novel. How can you describe the picture of Ulysses flying through the air towards Flora? It’s hard to recreate. I think we can tell a lot about each character simply from the way they are drawn.
- The vocabulary and word choice: This novel is full of incredibly advanced vocabulary! It’s actually really awesome how easily DiCamillo incorporates such impressive words into her story. Some favorites: malfeasance, protestations, surreptitious, cynical.
- William Spiver: He is such a delightfully awkward and endearing character. Seriously loved everything he said, his quirks and loyalty.
- The poetry: Such a fun inclusion in the text. I like the way we get some of the thought process in the writing of the poetry. Ulysses writes about thinks that are meaningful to him. I think it also can give young readers some confidence that anyone can write poetry–even squirrels.
Things that I didn’t like:
- The squirrel superhero: Okay, I just couldn’t really get behind this idea. It was too weird for me. Thinking about Flora giving squirrel CPR makes me cringe every time I think about it. I am sure this is part because I’m outside the target audience, but I just couldn’t accept this idea.
- Flora’s parents: They are both rather unreliable and seem entrenched in their ideas about life. They don’t want to change. And I felt sorry for Flora. Overall, I just didn’t click with their characters.
- The ending: I didn’t feel the closure that I had hoped and everything seemed to wrap up so neatly. I think more things could have been explained in more detail
I will say that I am outside the target audience which hindered my experience reading this book. I am just not who DiCamillo is writing to. I don’t read comic books and I don’t love superhero stories. So I don’t think I could love this book as her target audience could. I can see young kids, especially boys, really enjoying this one. And I can appreciate what they can learn from the vocabulary and storytelling.
This is a fun, quirky novel. There are moments that I reveled in DiCamillo’s storytelling genius and times when I got stuck on the strangeness of a squirrel superhero. Overall, it wasn’t my favorite Newbery winner. But I enjoyed reading outside my usual genres and can appreciate the reasons for it’s Newbery Medal. I haven’t read anything like this before. If you’re looking for something different that will make you laugh and surprise you, consider giving this book a try.
What are your favorite Kate DiCamillo novels?
Which Newbery winner should I read next?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.