A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the title of 2014 Newbery Medal winner Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux) references a medieval manuscript whose text was enriched by its illustrations. This engaging tale of 10-year-old "natural-born cynic" Flora and her friend Ulysses, a squirrel who suddenly acquires superpowers, is charming, funny, and poignant. K.G. Campbell's illustrations and comic-book panels add much appeal. Some of the underlying issues may be a bit intense for younger or more sensitive kids -- for example, dysfunctional parents, divorce, and a mom who's determined to kill the squirrel for her daughter's "own good." One otherwise heartwarming scene has a usually careful driver taking both hands off the wheel of a moving car, and one of the kids talks about how he rolled his awful stepfather's (empty) car into a lake. Read by Tara Sands in the audiobook version, which the American Library Association named a 2014 Notable Children's Recording.
What's the story?
To the chagrin of her romance-novelist mom, 10-year-old Flora spends a lot of time reading comic books, especially the adventures of a meek janitor who's secretly the superhero Incandesco. After rescuing a squirrel from a vacuum-cleaner mishap (and naming him Ulysses), she's thrilled to learn he's acquired superpowers. The two of them are instant soulmates, but their relationship is complicated by the fact that her mom wants to kill him. In a story told in prose, pictures, and comic-book panels, our intrepid heroes face this and many other perils while making many friends and righting assorted wrongs.
Is it any good?
It's no surprise that a book by Kate DiCamillo is engaging, funny, and heartfelt, but illustrator K.G. Campbell's images of the quirky characters make it even better. There's a lot of real-life darkness beneath the surface of this comic superhero tale: Flora's parents are divorced, her new neighbor William has family troubles, an old lady has lost the love of her life. Ulysses the squirrel has been shot at and had his tail run over even before the giant vacuum cleaner devours him, and Flora's mother is determined to bash him over the head with a shovel and kill him. Adults as well as kids will enjoy following our heroes FLORA & ULYSSES through their perilous (and illuminated) adventures.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why stories about animals with unusual powers and the kids who befriend them are so popular. How does Ulysses compare with other unlikely superheroes you've read about?
What do you think of Flora's mom's reasons for wanting to kill Ulysses? Can you think of any other examples of people who have very good motives for doing very bad things?
What does Flora's motto ("Don't hope. Observe.") mean? Do you think it's good advice?
- Author: Kate DiCamillo
- Illustrator: K.G. Campbell
- Genre: Humor
- Topics: Superheroes, Adventures, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: September 24, 2013
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 240
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Awards: ALA Best and Notable Books, Caldecott Medal and Honors, Newbery Medal and Honors
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.