Flora & Ulysses
by Kate DiCamillo (2013)
A second Newbery Medal winner from Kate DiCamillo? Holy Bagumba!
The star of this story is Flora Belle Buckman, avid reader of comic books and self-proclaimed, natural-born cynic. Her mundane life is a complete contrast to the world she escapes into while reading…until she one day chances upon a freak accident between her neighbor – appearing to be vacuuming her lawn – and the squirrel that becomes a victim of that strange chore. Flora snaps to action to resuscitate the squirrel and soon finds that this strange encounter has had an effect on it… Like Peter Parker being bitten by an irradiated arachnid. Or Alfred T. Slipper falling into a gigantic vat of cleaning solution. Wait, you’re not familiar with that one? Guess you’ll just have to read this book!
With the advent of a squirrel sidekick, Flora notices her actual life becoming more like something from a comic book. And she has to rely on tips learned from her favorite – The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! – to help her navigate the world that is changing around her. The wisdom garnered from her years of faithful readership helps Flora deal with her overbearing romance novelist mother (and her esteemed lamp), her next-door-neighbor’s temporarily blind great-nephew, her socially awkward father, and a handful of new, and equally quirky, people that stumble into her life on account of Ulysses.
Author Kate DiCamillo is known for using widely varied writing techniques in each of her children’s novels. In Flora & Ulysses, she, along with illustrator K. G. Campbell, cleverly brings the comic book theme to life by peppering in scenes portrayed in authentic comic book styling through illustrated storyboard panels. This helps to grab the attention of even the most reluctant readers and bring them into Flora’s world. As a bonus, readers also get a taste of what Flora’s favorite comic is like as DiCamillo expertly weaves in moments where Flora recalls past issues of Incandesto! and applies its advice as if it were an instruction manual to life.
Readers will love going on this comical adventure with Flora as she learns who her allies and nemeses are and begins to realize that she herself may even have some powers that can affect those around her. Your students, too, will likely begin to look at their own lives differently as they draw parallels between “the real world” and the fiction they’re reading – just like Flora.