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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Review

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K.G. Campbell

Flora Belle Buckman is looking out the window when there is an unanticipated occurrence: her neighbor accidentally vacuums up a squirrel. Being a well-informed cynic, and a faithful reader of the comic Terrible Things Can Happen To You, Flora performs a touch of CPR and resuscitates the squirrel, whom she names Ulysses.

"While the bursts of humor light up the story, ultimately what breathes life into FLORA & ULYSSES is that it serves as a reminder: a reminder that the world is beautiful, and you are alive. Holy bagumba!"

It quickly becomes apparent that this run-in with the vacuum has caused Ulysses to gain more than a few special abilities, including flight, strength and a knack for poetry. Flora suspects he may be a superhero, albeit an unassuming one. Flora knows she must carefully watch Ulysses, for the world (and her mother) will likely misunderstand him and his powers. What takes Flora longer to realize is that she has also been transformed.

The illustrations, many of which are in comic-style graphic sequences, are delicate and expressive, with moments that underline the humor and the action in the text. K. G. Campbell’s images capture facial expressions particularly well (both human and squirrel), and I found that they quickly changed my perception of the characters, especially Flora, with her short hair and button nose.

While Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic, her mantra of “do not hope, instead observe,” comes up against another perspective: there is great beauty in believing. There is beauty in doughnuts, freshly cut grass and the ever-expanding universe, a beauty that Ulysses’ poetry captures quite well. Flora’s gradual change as she comes to appreciate the joy of the miraculous and the unanticipated is superbly executed.

FLORA & ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES is also Kate DiCamillo’s funniest story yet, and readers should be cautioned about reading in public because laughing out loud is unavoidable. What is so entertaining about the humor is that it takes many forms. Flora’s mother, for example, is a romance novelist, who writes books with titles like, On Feathered Wings of Joy, while her father has a habit of introducing himself redundantly, especially when he is feeling uncomfortable.

Flora’s parents are an interesting study because they are a good representation of what the story as a whole accomplishes in its blend of humor and poignancy. While Flora’s parents are comical at times, they are not slapstick figures, and their sorrows are not revealed for amusement. Flora’s parents may be funny, but they are also lonely, awkward and imperfect. Sometimes they say the wrong thing. Sometimes they don’t behave the way that Flora needs them to behave. They are not deities of childhood; they are simply people. While the love between Ulysses and Flora unfolds unambiguously, Flora’s mother's love for her needs affirmation. This belief in her mother’s love parallels Flora’s awakening to the joys of watching for miracles. FLORA & ULYSSES prods the reader to leave the window open, because you never know what might fly in.

While the bursts of humor light up the story, ultimately what breathes life into FLORA & ULYSSES is that it serves as a reminder: a reminder that the world is beautiful, and you are alive. Holy bagumba!

Reviewed by Olivia Swomley on June 11, 2013

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
written by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K.G. Campbell