HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: K. G. Campbell
Publisher: Candlewick, 2013
Related website: http://www.candlewick.com (publisher)
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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DiCamillo, Kate. Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (published in 2013 Candlewick Press, 99 Dover St., Somerville, MA 02144). What can a superhero squirrel do? Ten year old, almost eleven, Flora Belle Buckman lives with her writer mother who is divorced from Flora’s father. Mrs. Buckham accuses Flora, who loves to read comic books, especially The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! about a janitor named Alfred T. Slipper who becomes a superhero, of being a “natural-born cynic.” Flora’s neighbor, Tootie Tickham, receives a new Ulysses 2000X vacuum cleaner for her birthday, and it is so powerful that it drags her outside where it sucks up a squirrel. At first the squirrel appears to be dead, but then something strange happens to the poor animal. It picks up the vacuum cleaner. It can fly. It types poetry. It becomes a superhero, and Flora names it Ulysses.
However, Flora’s mother thinks that the squirrel is dangerous and demands that Flora’s father take it out and kill it when he comes to pick up Flora for her weekly visit. Things especially go awry when they stop at a restaurant for supper and Ulysses escapes. With the help of Mrs. Tickham and William Spiver, Tootie’s great-nephew who has been banished by his mother to live with her because of a problem between him and his step-father, Flora seeks to save Ulysses. Will she be successful? And will Ulysses be able to use his superhero powers to help anyone? Some of the chapters, or portions thereof, are told in comic book fashion. As to language, in addition to a few common euphemisms (i.e., heck, gosh), a reference to a cat’s “peeing on the residents’ doors” appears, and the phrase “holy bagumba” is found frequently as an interjection. Many who truly reverence God would feel that the word “holy” should be used only of genuine sacred things, but our secularistic society probably sees nothing objectionable in using it otherwise.
Flora and Ulysses does nothing to ease my concerns about the portrayal of the family in modern children’s literature. It seems to be almost a requirement that instead of normal, loving families solving conflicts and difficulties that arise together, there has to be some divorce situation or a step-relative problem to deal with, leaving the impression that nearly every family must be dysfunctional in some way or another. Finally, I never could decide if this is intended as just a children’s silly, fairy-tale type story or if it is supposed to have a deep moral, lesson, or message hidden somewhere in it. If it is the former, then I suppose that kids can read it and laugh at its absurdity. If it is the latter, then I must confess that somehow the deep, hidden moral, lesson, or message completely escaped me. By the way, do get out your dictionary, because the book has the vocabulary of an SAT prep class. Kate DiCamillo is a good storyteller. I liked Because of Winn Dixie, but her Newbery Medal winning The Tale of Despereaux, though interesting, had some elements that I did not care for. And to be honest, Flora and Ulysses just didn’t do very much for me either.