Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Plot Summary:
It all started with a squirrel who got sucked up in a vacuum and turned into a superhero. Before his accidental sucking up, Mrs. Tickham was well into her favorite volume of poetry when Mr. Tickham gave her the Ulysses 2000 X vacuum as a present. Not only was this vacuum super sucky, it was multi-terrain! However, when Mr. Tickham turned on the super sucky vacuum, it took ohf with Mrs. Tickham straight into Flora's yard. What should have been a quiet day with her favorite comic The Illuminated Adventures of the Great Incandesto, Flora saw Mrs. Tickham being dragged by a crazy vacuum that was headed straight to a poor, innocent bystander: a squirrel. In a flurry, Flora did everything she could to warn the squirrel, but it was too late...he was being inhaled by the Ulysses 2000X and was kaput. However, Flora read in in a bonus comic of The Illuminated Adventures of the Great Incandesto called the Terrible Things That Can Happen To You how to perform CPR and that is exactly what she did. After resuscitating the former dead squirrel, a miracle occurred...the squirrel had somehow developed a consciousnesses and abilities such as super strength and he can now understand human speech. When Flora explained to Mrs. Tickham that the squirrel, named Ulysses, after his metal maker, was now a superhero like The Great Incandesto, she read to him from her poetry book, which stirred something deep inside of Ulysses: he loved words. Furthermore, when Flora took him home, Ulysses discovered her mother's typewriter, which revealed yet another super power: HE CAN TYPE! Flora decided to take him in under her wing to help him develop his new found powers just like Dolores, the parakeet, from The Illuminated Adventures of the Great Incandesto. However, Flora and Ulysses face a variety of obstacles that another bonus comic, entitled The Criminal Element, has predicted starting with Ulysses arch nemesis who has set out to separate Ulysses from Flora and ultimately destroy him! Holy Bagumba! Will our dynamic duo be able to escape their arch nemesis named "MOM!?!"

Critical Evaluation:
Kate DiCamillo has done it, AGAIN, in making me love everything about her stories. DiCamillo takes some very tough issues such as divorce, broken families, parental neglect, and the onset of adolescence and wraps them up in a funny, yet well-written story of a genuine friendship between a young girl and a squirrel. For Ulysses, he has never known what it's like to be human, in the sense, that he now has a conscience and sudden urge to express himself; everything used to be about food, but it's now about being alive. Although being sucked in a vacuum, and a near death experience, would rattle anyone, this incident has given an animal (that most people neglect) a new purpose in life: to be the superhero that saves everyone in the end. Along with this amazing friendship, Flora, a self-professed cynic, is starting to change because she, like Ulysses, is more aware of her surroundings and herself: Flora realizes how much she misses her father and how lonely she is. Although Flora's mother is the arch nemesis of the story, it's obvious her mother is also still grieving from the divorce, but is unable to express herself to her daughter so she throws herself into her work. It's not until the end of the story that she realizes the error of her ways, but, in the meantime, Flora feels that her mother loved her cheesy lamp than her; Flora's father, who has spent many nights on Mrs. Meescham's horsehair couch,  crying his eyes out because he is separated from his little girl, is also unable to relay his feelings to Flora (he's a pro at evading questions). Clearly, the adults, even Mrs. Meescham, are nuttier than Ulysses breath, but with Ulysses and William Spiver, Flora finally learns that she isn't alone, which not makes her happy, but a little less cynical. The best part of this story are the comics that K.G. Campbell has drawn because he captures not only the mood, and comedy, of the story, but the softness of the penciled comics conveys the fragility of both Ulysses and Flora who want nothing more than to be loved. This really is a sweet story and I giggled quite a bit simply because of all the "Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!" that occurred, a young finally realizes just how loved she really is.

Information about the Author:
According to her website:
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, raised in Clermont, Florida, and currently live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I write for both children and adults and I like to think of myself as a storyteller.

Here are a few more facts about me: I am short. And loud. I hate to cook and love to eat. I am single and childless, but I have lots of friends and I am an aunt to three lovely children (Luke, Roxanne, and Max) and one not so lovely dog (Henry).

I think of myself as an enormously lucky person: I get to tell stories for a living.

Genre:
Tween Fiction, Tween Adventure

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 4-6


Books Similar to The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses:

Awards & Recognition:
  • 2014 John Newbery Medal Award Winner 
From Amazon.com:
Newbery-winner DiCamillo is a master storyteller not just because she creates characters who dance off the pages and plots, whether epic or small, that never fail to engage and delight readers. Her biggest strength is exposing the truths that open and heal the human heart. She believes in possibilities and forgiveness and teaches her audience that the salt of life can be cut with the right measure of love.
—Booklist (starred review)

Original, touching and oh-so-funny tale starring an endearingly implausible superhero and a not-so-cynical girl.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Despite supremely quirky characters and dialogue worthy of an SAT prep class, there’s real emotion at the heart of this story involving two kids who have been failed by the most important people in their lives: their parents.
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Rife with marvelously rich vocabulary reminiscent of the early superhero era (e.g., "Holy unanticipated occurrences!") and amusing glimpses at the world from the point of view of Ulysses the supersquirrel, this book will appeal to a broad audience of sophisticated readers. There are plenty of action sequences, but the novel primarily dwells in the realm of sensitive, hopeful, and quietly philosophical literature.
—School Library Journal (starred review)

Eccentric characters, snappy prose and the fantastical plot give this delightful novel a giddy, over-the-top patina, but the core is big and hopeful, contemplative and bursting with heart. No small feat, even for a superhero like DiCamillo.
—Shelf Awareness

In "Flora and Ulysses," longtime fans will find a happy marriage of Mercy Watson's warmth and wackiness and Edward Tulane's gentle life lessons. In Flora, they will find a girl worth knowing, and one they will remember.
—The New York Times Book Review

[L]augh-out-loud funny, tender, difficult and hopeful all at once. ... Cynics beware, this book is meant for those open to joy, wonder, loyalty and friendship of all stripes.
—The Huffington Post

This is a fun and clever tale of an unlikely hero uniting an even more unlikely cast of characters. Kate DiCamillo strikes again. Each character is well-drawn, the story is packed with fun references and asides. It's a perfect blend of poignancy and magic.
—Fall 2013 Parents' Choice Book Awards

DiCamillo does here what she does best, which is tell a deceptively simple story that elucidates big truths. ...
Though their adventures are wild and wacky, the heart of the story is about a girl adrift and how she finds her way home. Pencil illustrations and comic book panels by K.G. Campbell complement Kate DiCamillo's text perfectly. After reading Flora and Ulysses, you'll be asking when the next installment is due.
—NPR Books

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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