What would you do if you saw a squirrel being vaccumed up by an all too powerful vacuum? What if after you revived it, it awoke with super powers, not to mention a love of poetry and the ability to type? Flora and Ulysses is about the friendship of Flora, a cynical 11 year girl and Ulysses, a squirrel who has been given a second chance. However playful that might seem, there are serious issues at play. There is Flora’s mom, focused on writing her romance novel, and in Flora’s mind, more in love with a lamp in the shape of a shepherdess. There is Flora’s father, who, divorced from her mother, is sad, and only sees Flora for a few hours a weekend. There is the strange Dr. , a widowed neighbor to Flora’s dad, who offers sandwiches and a plastic covered couch for guests to share their sadness. The three aspects that stood out to me were, the magical elements entwined with of the power of friendship and love, the realism involved with Flora’s relationship with her mother and the effects of divorce on everyone and the use of illustrations in the book.
EVALUATION OF THE BOOK
DiCamillo uses magical elements in this sweet story about friendship. Ulysses is not born with superpowers, but rather receives them when he is sucked up by the Ulysses 2000 vacuum cleaner. Flora is a pre-teen who lives with her mom, a romance writer, and loves the comic book The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, about a janitor turned superhero. She then sees the strength of Ulysses as proof that he is a superhero. However, his superhero powers are somewhat pedantic – he writes poetry, can type and can fly and lift heavy objects. While he can do all these things in this real world, truly the most profound magic in this book is his friendship with Flora. Young readers will come away from this book appreciating their unlikely friendship amidst all odds – such as Flora’s mom asking for Ulysses to be “taken care of.” It is an important theme for young people to see.One gap I found in this novel, however charming and lovely, is that the Ulysses the squirrel never does anything quite heroic in the tradition super sense besides throw a cat off of Flora’s dad’s head. The adventures that happen, occur because of his presence. However, this novel brings to light that a strong bond and connection with someone, whether through friendship, between a father and daughter, or between a husband and wife or a squirrel and girl, are for forever and must be cherished. DiCamillo’s novel shines most brightly when Dr. Meescham says, “I promise to always turn back toward you” (DiCamillo, 2013, p. 165) and then Ulysses later quotes her in one of his poems.
While this is not a graphic novel, it does have images and illustrations on many of the pages. Some of the action scenes, for example, are in comic book form. In many ways, Campbell’s and DiCamillo’s use of this form is a homage to comics in general. They pervade both the narrative and illustrations. For example, most scenes that have exciting action are truly displayed through Campbell’s illustrations. In the opening scene, for instance, the reader sees through the format of comic strip frames, the dangerous power of the vacuum cleaner as it takes control of Flora’s neighbor, which is how it gets into the front yard (See Image 2). This is wonderful for young readers because the combination of these illustrations are reminiscent of graphic novels, which are engaging. What is different here, is this is not a graphic novel, but rather a novel that expertly utilizes illustrations to create a complete story. All of Campbell’s illustrations are executed with pencil, which fit in seamlessly with DiCamillo’s writing.
While this story is fantasy with the magical elements, it also confronts realistic themes such as divorce, rejection, and a disconnection with ones parents. Flora’s mother, does not seem to see Flora for who she is and in Flora’s mind
Flora and Ulysses somehow manages to bring together tough issues of being a kid, like having divorced parents, or having a mother who is physically present but emotionally absent, of having the most unlikely of friends, of feeling a yearning for someone you have just met, of missing your dad, of using your favorite type of reading, in this case comic books, to help navigate the tough waters of life and finally to invite you to share your story and shed a tear or too.
DiCamillo, K. & Campbell, K.G. (2013). Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. Candlewick Pres. Somerville Massachusetts
Young, T.A., Bryan, G., Jacobs, J.S., Tunnell, M. O. (2020). Children’s literature, briefly. Pearson Education, Inc.