Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures
Having recently finished reading children’s author Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal winning Flora & Ulysses, I’m going to go out on a limb and recommend not only Flora & Ulysses, but everything this woman writes.
With the holidays almost at hand, and hoping that books are high on your gift-giving lists, may I suggest to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or anyone wondering what book to buy for that early to middle reader on your list that you consider choosing a book by Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo writes picture books, early chapter books and novels.
Let’s start with her novel Flora & Ulysses, The Illuminated Adventures. Mind you, your special reader may already be into chapter books, but please don’t dismiss anything simply because it’s illustrated. This book is marketed for kids from eight to thirteen, but phooey, it works for ages thirteen on up. What’s it about? Um, a squirrel, a vacuum, a young girl? In DiCamillo’s own words: “I set out to tell the story of a vacuum cleaner and a squirrel. I ended up writing a book about superheroes, cynics, poetry, love, giant donuts, little shepherdess lamps, and how we are all working to find our way home.”
Flora and the squirrel (named Ulysses after the vacuum cleaner that sucked him up), enliven DiCamillo’s world and touch our hearts in unexpected ways. Like all DiCamillo’s books (yes, including her novels), Flora and Ulysses’s story begs to be read aloud. The author never, never writes down to her readers, the vocabulary found in this and other stories may require a nearby dictionary – Cynic? Malfeasance? Preternatural? The illustrations, some in comic book style, only serve to enhance the depth of emotions just below the surface of the duos funny antics. Illustrations accompanying text (a key element of most of DiCamillo’s books) often give readers, both young and old, a reason to pause and maybe see what was just read in a different light. The novel covers a lot of territory, mother/daughter problems, husband/wife problems, early teen trauma, and newly acquired super powers for a rescued squirrel. Take a look at the title again, it is not the “illustrated adventures,” but the Illuminated Adventures, and that is exactly what K. G. Campbell’s wonderful illustrations do, they illuminate.
For the young, beginning reader there is DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson animal series, stories of the Watson family’s rambunctious pet pig. My own favorites for the older reader are The Magician’s Elephant, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Tiger Rising, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and a Christmas picture book that will take your breath away, Great Joy.
Kate DiCamillo writes with an eye and ear for the human condition, with its joys, its sorrows and its hopes. She writes with depth, humor, intelligence and more kindness that any children’s author I can think of. She is the sort of writer whose stories we should all want our children to be reading, especially in today’s world of isolated Internet reading and viewing. Taking the time to sit and read with or to our kids should never go out of style. Add to that the great fun of talking to our kids about what we’ve just read. Visit your favorite bookstore, in person or online. What a pleasure to recommend Kate DiCamillo. Her books belong on the bookshelves of every family. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Kate DiCamillo: The Tiger Rising, The Tale of Despereaux; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; Mercy Watson to the Rescue (five more in the series); The Magician’s Elephant; Bink and Gollie, Two for One; Flora & Ulysses; Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon; Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken; Leroy Ninkin Saddles Up.