The Illuminating Adventures of a Cynic and a Superhero

Flora and UlyssesFlora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (©2013) written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell is the winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal. The book’s heroine is ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman. As a self-proclaimed cynic, Flora is surprised at herself when, upon seeing her neighbor accidentally vacuum up a defenseless squirrel, she runs to the rescue. Flora is even more surprised when after reviving the squirrel she witnesses him lifting the vacuum over his head. In Flora’s mind, there can only be one explanation. The squirrel, whom Flora names Ulysses, must be a superhero. This theory becomes increasingly more plausible when Ulysses begins to demonstrate other talents. He can understand human speech, use a typewriter, and even fly! Flora’s friendship with Ulysses leads to a surprising adventure and several unforeseen allies including the vacuum-wielding neighbor and her great-nephew, a lonely doctor, and Flora’s estranged father.

Flora and Ulysses illustration

Flora & Ulysses is absolutely marvelous. The author effortlessly blends humor and adventure into a story that is deep, sensitive, and philosophical. Though the book is fast-paced and easy to read, DiCamillo manages to sneak some stellar vocabulary boosters like malfeasance and unremitting into the narrative. The format is unique; the novel is interspersed with short sequences of comic-style graphics and beautiful full-page illustrations, all done in black and white.

This is a charming and poignant book about the power of friendship and forgiveness. I recommend Flora & Ulysses for ages 9-13.

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