Saturday, January 11, 2020

MMGM (1/13/2020): Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K.G. Campbell

I hope everyone is enjoying 2020 so far! For MMGM, I am recommending Newbery Medal-winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by K.G. Campbell.




          Several weeks ago, I was discussing this book's upcoming movie adaptation here, and I realized that, although I had read it and enjoyed it, I had never reviewed it. I am finally rectifying that mistake! Here's the publisher's description of the book (I think it describes the book better than I could):

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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 artist K. G. Campbell.

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          Very few authors could write a story about a superpowered squirrel and turn it into a heartfelt story about love and friendship, but Kate DiCamillo has done it! Flora & Ulysses has so many wonderful elements that I hardly know where to begin. I'll start with this novel's comic-based inspiration. Flora loves reading comics (much to the chagrin of her romance-novelist mother), from stories of the superhero Incandesto (which she used to read with her father before he moved out post-divorce) to admittedly-less-healthy stories about what to do if someone chokes/you ever come in contact with an electric chair/you get stuck in the South Pole/etc. Flora's interest ties in perfectly with the Mad-Libs superhero plot: after a terrifying incident with a _____ (vacuum cleaner), a regular _____ (squirrel) gains the powers of _____ (flying), _____ (lifting heavy objects), and _____ (typing)! Flora and Ulysses does not make fun of comics, however: with its well-drawn comic book panels (which are pretty occasional, taking up maybe 10% of the book), catchphrases, and demonstration of the hope and excitement present throughout comics, I can start to see comics' appeal!
          There's so much else to love about Flora & Ulysses, however. The cast of characters is delightfully varied, from Flora's somewhat-unloving mother (who often adores a tacky shepherdess lamp more than she does her daughter) and her much-more-loving father (who has a tic of introducing himself even when no one is there) to side characters such as the poetry-loving Mrs. Tickham (who accidentally vacuums the squirrel up in the first place), her great-nephew William Spiver (who insists on being called as such and has declared himself temporarily blind after a trauma), and a strange older neighbor named Dr. Meescham (who tells stories of growing up in Blundermeecen with the trolls). The plot of the story is beautiful as well: Flora begins to see the joy and hope in the world, Ulysses (the squirrel) notices the beauty around him for the first time, and Flora begins to reconnect with those around her. The book depicts divorce, remarriage (not with Flora's parents), and even mourning (with side characters) very well, yet this book is not even remotely close to being sad. If you somehow missed Flora & Ulysses when it won the Newbery Medal and still haven't read it, I urge you to do so immediately—you won't be disappointed!

4 comments:

  1. I don't love stories about animals, but you got me with the rescue from the vacuum cleaner. Sounds like a great read.

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  2. Thanks for reminding me why I loved this book. Makes me want to go back and read it again.

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  3. Can't believe I haven't read this DiCamillo gem! You got me with the squirrel and the vacuum cleaner. Sounds hilarious!

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  4. I haven't read this, but I sure will find time to do that. It sounds terrific. Thanks for telling me about it.

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