Sometimes a book gives you everything you want. Kate DiCamillo, the brilliant author of The Tale of Despereaux and The Magician’s Elephant, has wrapped up all the best things and gifted them to the world in the book Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. There’s an interesting plot, beautiful illustrations, loveable characters, comedy, depth, and wacky fonts that crop up randomly. One of my favorite aspects of all things created “for children” is that these same things are made by adults. As such, there are often little Easter egg epiphanies and bits that make you stop in your tracks and think, Yeah, that is true. Flora & Ulysses is full of them.
“…these were the kind of idiotic words her parents spoke. And they said the words to each other, even though they were pretending that they were talking to Flora.
It was all very annoying.”
While emailing with a friend, she brought up exactly what I appreciate most about this book in particular: “[Kate] isn’t scared off by sadness, even when writing for children.”
Flora is the child of divorced parents. The story is written from her point of view, and in her point of view, her mother (a romance novelist) is ridiculous, and her father is “the world’s loneliest man.” Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic who is not in the market for new friends (cue Drake… “No new friends, n**** we don’t feel that…”). Instead, she sits in her room reading comics about the Amazing Incandesto, a janitor named Alfred T. Slipper, who one day falls into a vat of cleaning fluid that transforms him into a superhero. Thanks to an ill-conceived gift from a husband to his wife, Flora witnesses the birth of a real life superhero — Ulysses. Ulysses…is a squirrel. The gift I mentioned was an industrial strength vacuum cleaner so strong, it pulls Flora’s neighbor, Tootie, into the yard where she sucks up a squirrel by accident. Flora, who sees this from her bedroom window, runs down to the scene and rescues the squirrel, who then proceeds to lift said vacuum over his head.
Ulysses goes on to amaze everyone around him by typing poetry, vanquishing a (very mean) cat, and flying. He is a wonder. However, the most amazing thing Ulysses accomplishes (without trying) is bringing people together. Flora, a girl who until now was content to sit and read alone in her room, ends up with three new friends in addition to Ulysses: a boy who suffers from “temporary blindness induced by trauma” (and the annoying habit of talking too much), her vacuum-wielding neighbor, and a widowed doctor of philosophy with many truths to share. But one of my favorite things Flora comes away with is a closer relationship with the person she misses the most: her dad.
Flora & Ulysses is a book about love, all kinds of love, and a beautifully written, funny one at that. The surprise of Ulysses’ transformation from normal squirrel to superhero savant happens within the first few pages, but keep reading; the surprises are just beginning.