Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Common Sense Media says

Funny, poignant tale of cynical girl, superpowered squirrel.




ALA Best and Notable BooksCaldecott Medal and HonorsNewbery Medal and Honors

What parents need to know

Educational value

Ulysses' name is a literary allusion or two all by itself. Poetry plays a big role in the story: Illustrations show bookshelves with great works, and one of the characters is fond of reading Rilke aloud. One of the characters loves Mozart and also tells Flora about Pascal's Wager (an argument put forth by 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal regarding people's belief or disbelief in God). Flora's friend William uses a lot of scientific terminology about space. Vocabulary note: Thanks to her reading of comic books, Flora frequently exclaims things like, "Holy unexpected occurrences!," "We have to face the arch-nemesis!," and "This malfeasance must be stopped!"

Positive messages

Good triumphs over evil! Empathize with others and with why they behave as they do. Stand by your friends. 

Positive role models

Flora generally exhibits more maturity and a better sense of priorities than her mom, who's excessively concerned about having a "weird" daughter. Besides her steadfast determination to protect Ulysses, she also shows good judgment in her choice of adults to befriend for help. Several adult characters show common sense, kindness, intelligence, and heart.

Violence & scariness

Ulysses the squirrel has been shot at and had his tail run over even before the giant vacuum cleaner devours him. Flora's mother's seriously determined to kill Ulysses by bashing him over the head with a shovel. Ulysses narrowly escapes a knife-wielding cook after a diner mishap. A large cat named Mr. Klaus terrorizes the entire building where Flora's father lives, attacking his victims with much biting and scratching. 


"For the love of Pete!" and "Holy bagumba!" are typical utterances.

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-DixieThe 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.


Parents say

Kids say

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator:K.G. Campbell
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
Number of pages:240
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Read aloud:8 - 12
Read alone:8 - 12
Available on:Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook
Awards:ALA Best and Notable Books, Caldecott Medal and Honors, Newbery Medal and Honors

This review of Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures was written by

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  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
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  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
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Kid, 9 years old April 22, 2014

Really good book!

This book is pretty good. Some of the plots get a little over-used, but over all a good book. Some mentions of divorce and romance. Only one kind of violent part where someone has a knife and is chasing someone.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent Written byMomofTwoGirlsinGA April 1, 2014

A great read aloud

This book is full of silly, laugh-out-loud adventure. It has a great style with a vocabulary that is super challenging. So, it is a great read aloud book. The issues are not easy (divorced parents stumbling around to support their daughter and another child managing rejection) but all these issues are handled in a sweet way. I have recommended this book to many friends!


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