"Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures" by Kate DiCamillo is a delightful and engaging story for tweens. It justly won the Newbery Award this year for its contemporary yet timeless story of superheroic, poetry-writing squirrel Ulysses and his cynical yet hopeful human sidekick Flora. Their adventures rival those of any dynamic duo.
Ulysses becomes aware after a close encounter with a powerful vacuum cleaner. At first, only Flora appreciates that he is now sentient and can understand human language. But as time passes, more and more people, including the adults in Flora's world, come to appreciate the depth and warmth that is Ulysses.
Part of what I appreciate about this novel is that it depicts children with real world issues and problems. Flora's parents are divorced, and that doesn't magically change as a result of the arrival of Ulysses. But Flora does come to appreciate just how much each of her parents loves her in their own ways. Another child character, William Spiver, is struggling with the loss of his father and his mother's remarriage. Again, DiCamillo doesn't resort to "solving" this problem--but William is coping better with his situation by the end of the story.
What I love generally about DiCamillo's stories--from "Because of Winn Dixie" to the "Tale of Despereaux" to "Bink and Gollie" to the Mercy Watson books--is that they are engaging without being simplistic. The characters, even the most magical, also feel amazingly real and believable. I suspect that one of the reasons DiCamillo's works resonate so much with readers of all ages is that no one ever feels as if she is talking down to them. I also am pleased that she serves as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.
I whole-heartedly recommend this book for readers of all ages. DiCamillo is, without a doubt, one of my favorite authors for children--and me too.
Posted by Lydia Schultz.