Friday, March 7, 2014

Flora and Ulysses, Kate DiCamillo (illustrated by K.G. Campbell)

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora Belle Buckman was in her room at her desk. She was very busy. She was doing two things at once. She was ignoring her mother, and she was also reading a comic book entitled The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!

"Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. 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."

I read Flora and Ulysses in the span of a day; it flew by, but I'm still not really sure what I thought of it overall or what rating to give it. On the one hand, it was entertaining and funny, and I loved the illustrations; on the other, it was such an odd specimen of a book. I have to say that I was immediately drawn in by the first scenario: a squirrel is accidentally vacuumed up by the Ulysses Vacuum Cleaner, and when he emerges, Flora gives him squirrel CPR. Ah, the absurdity of it all. The newly named Ulysses comes back to life - only now he has powers that no other squirrel has. As it turns out, Ulysses has super-squirrel strength, flies, and...he can type. Which he enjoys.

But a lot happens before all that is revealed, and it was quite amusing to be swept up along with Flora on her wild, surreal adventure. Things are not all light-hearted; Flora's parents are divorced, and she lives with her romance-writing mother, who doesn't pay much attention to her, to say the least. The cynical Flora believes that her mother loves a shepherdess lamp more than she does Flora, and it certainly seems that way, because Flora's mother is always, always criticizing her. And she's not pleased by this new addition to the home; to her mother the squirrel is just another embodiment of Flora's quirkiness. 

Quirky is how I would describe this book in general. There are so many little things just not quite right about the book; sometimes it seems realistic, but then of course it takes a turn into the wildly fantastical, with Ulysses typing up not very good poetry and craving giant donuts. It was all very goofy, yet there was also a certain charm about the book. It might appeal to younger readers, especially the cute, furry, intelligent animal aspect of it. And it's illustrated superbly.

I just loved the illustrations; they're skillful pencil drawings, and there was just such detail in each and every drawing, down to books on shelves and small objects in the scene. The drawings weren't life-like, but they were certainly realistic; it was easy to tell what everything was, and every detail fit the book. I also loved the illustrations of Ulysses; he's so cute and mischievous looking. My favorite was probably towards the beginning when he gets crackers out of the vacuum cleaner. The other characters are interestingly drawn  too, and I think the book worked very well on that level. Also, how is anyone able to draw like that??!!!? Other people's talent always inspire envy.

Flora was also a pretty awesome character; she's intelligent and animated and she longs for adventure. Her father was odd though, and I really disliked her mother, whose sudden change of heart at the end seemed rather sudden. And I have no words for William Spiver.

Some parts of the book were sort of corny, especially the exclamations of "holy bagumba" and other things. I got kind of tired of those after a while, and the insanity was a bit much. However, in short bursts it was amusing and welcome. I'm not sure that Flora and Ulysses is worthy of the Newbery Medal, but it's a fun children's book. Thanks to Candlewick for providing me with a review copy, and a worth a read for the humor.

233 pages.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

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