Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator:  K.G. Campbell 
For ages 8 to 12
Candlewick Press, 2013   ISBN: 978-0763660406

There was a time when Flora was happy, when she perhaps dared to let a little hope to sneak into her heart. Now, since her parent’s divorce, Flora has become a true “natural-born cynic.” She expects nothing good to happen, and unfortunately most of the time this is exactly what happens. She lives by the words “do not hope: instead, observe.”

   Then one day something happens that turns everything upside down. It all begins when one of the neighbors, Mr. Tickham, gives his wife Tootie a new vacuum. She is not thrilled by the gift and does not really want to try it out but he insists. Since it is a “multi-terrain” device, they take it outside, where it goes berserk. Flora is reading an issue of her favorite superhero comic and she looks out of the window just in time to see the vacuum cleaner suck up a squirrel.

   In spite of her determination not to get involved in other people’s issues, Flora runs outside and she manages to get the squirrel out of the vacuum, and then she does CPR on the little creature. The squirrel, who is in the process of dying, reverses his journey and comes back to the land of the living. The thing is that he has changed. He still thinks a lot about food, which is what squirrels think about most of the time, but he also understands human speech and appreciates beauty and love.

   Flora quickly realizes that the squirrel, whom she calls Ulysses, is special. She realizes that he understands her, and they become instant best friends. Flora, Tootie, and Tootie’s great-nephew William soon find out that Ulysses loves words. During his first night living with Flora, Ulysses discovers her mother’s typewriter and he writes a poem, carefully typing out the words. Later he writes another poem on Tootie’s computer. Tootie, William, and Flora are thrilled. Flora’s romance-novel-writing mother, Phyllis, is not. When Flora’s father, George, comes to take Flora out for the afternoon, Phyllis insists that George “put the squirrel out of its misery.”

   George has no real intention of killing Ulysses, and after the squirrel saves him from a vicious cat, George becomes yet another person who grows fond of Ulysses. Will his support be enough to convince Phyllis that Ulysses should stay with Flora?

   In this charming, sweetly funny book Kate Di Camillo explores the nature of love and friendship. We watch as Ulysses, who has his own peculiar form of magic, helps the humans he encounters by showing them how to accept and to give love to others.

   Throughout the book the text is complimented by illustrations and by sections of graphic novel type art.