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Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Unexpected Friends – A Review of Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12) by Newbery medal winning and New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo with Illustrations by K. G. Campbell, is reviewed today by Hilary Taber. Pre-order the book today or find it at your local independent bookseller on September 24th.

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K. G. Campbell

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K. G. Campbell, Candlewick Press, 2013.

I’m a huge fan of unexpected things, and finding unexpected friends tops this list. It just takes the strain off everything if you just happen to find a friend. This is precisely what occurs in Kate DiCamillo’s new book, Flora and Ulysses, the Illuminated Adventures.

When Mrs. Tootie Tickham receives a new Ulysses, Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday from her husband she has no idea that it contains enough power to drag her outside her home, into the front yard, to ultimately suck up an unsuspecting squirrel! Luckily, her next door neighbor, Flora Belle Buckman, is watching and is able to bring the squirrel back to life by remembering advice from a comic she is fond of reading called “Terrible Things Can Happen to You!” Flora remembers how to administer CPR and the squirrel is brought back to life. Not just to his normal life though, for now he can appreciate life on a higher plane entirely! He can heft the vacuum cleaner over his head, he can type, and he can write poetry! Flora dubs him “Ulysses” after the vacuum cleaner that almost took his life. She tells him that he is a superhero, much like the ones she reads about in the comic books she loves.

Every self-respecting superhero needs an arch-nemesis to overcome, and Flora has decided that this has to be her mother who is convinced that Ulysses is diseased. Flora’s mother has decided that Ulysses must go. What ensues is nothing short of high adventure. It will take Flora, both her parents, a boy named William Spiver (who seems a very unlikely, slightly paranoid friend), and a doctor of philosophy to help Flora on her quest to sort out her life. Of course, all along the way there is Ulysses, the very best friend a girl could have. After all, when I look back on this sweet story, I begin to see that it is when Ulysses arrives that the problems in Flora’s life are pulled to the forefront. It is only through their adventures he finally brings out the truth in her life.  Here is the truth of Flora’s life. She has parents who love her, discovers three new friends, and comes to find that she is not a cynic as she thought she was. Someone who can see superhero potential in a squirrel is someone who has hope dwelling in her heart.

K.G. Campbell’s illustrations, in a comic book style that appear every few pages, add soft, detailed, but action packed visuals to DiCamillo’s story. What originally appeared to me to be a funny, original story turned out to be something more. As so often in DiCamillo’s books, there is a depth of emotion and potent symbolism throughout the story. What is presented here is a tale that can be fully appreciated by young readers, but which is full of a deeper meaning that it took me two readings to truly understand it. What is wonderful about this book is that the reader can enjoy the book with or without understanding that deeper layer of meaning because it is so very funny! From the get go, Ulysses and his resurrection as superhero set the stage for many comic events (including my favorite one involving a giant donut restaurant), that lighten the tone of the book. Well done again, Kate! Very well done indeed. Be sure to put this one on your “to read” list right away! How can any of us say no to a story of a superhero, poetry-writing squirrel who loves Rilke, and giant donuts? You have to admit that this tale is extraordinary, and it is the sort of story only Kate DiCamillo could pull off, adding yet another wonderful title for readers of all ages to enjoy. Holy bagumba!

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Fridays Featuring Flintridge – New Novels

Catherine Linka shares her picks for …

New Novels for Young Readers

This fall, there are several new novels for young readers that offer the flavor and feel of classics. I read these books before they were published, looking forward to the day when I could hand them to readers and say, “I think you’ll love this.” Pick these up for holiday gifts for readers aged 8-13.

THE SPINDLERS ($16.99, Harper Collins) by Lauren Oliver

This reminds me a bit of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Beautifully written, with a lush and dramatic setting “Below.” Liza realizes that her little brother’s soul was stolen in his sleep by Spindlers, spider-like creatures, so she goes Below to get it back. Liza must befriend Mirabella, a tricky rat, to find her brother and the evil queen who holds his soul.  Great read aloud with action and themes of friendship and family. For independent readers 9+.

THE HUMMING ROOM ($16.99, Feiwel & Friends)
by Ellen Potter

Inspired by THE SECRET GARDEN, this was a huge hit with our Advance Reader Club of 5th and 6th graders. Roo loses her parents and goes to live with her reclusive uncle in what was once a Children’s Hospital on an island in the Saint Lawrence river. There’s a mystery inside the walls of this old building and Roo sets out to uncover it. (9+)

SUMMER AND BIRD ($16.99, Dutton Juvenile) by Katherine Catmull

Summer and her little sister, Bird, wake up to find their parents have disappeared into the woods. Searching the woods for their mom and dad, Bird follows a birdsong to a strange and wintery land where the birds await the return of the missing swan queen. While THE SPINDLERS is dramatic, SUMMER AND BIRD is dreamlike. Read it before bed. 9+.

LIAR &  SPY ($15.99, Wendy Lamb Books) by Rebecca Stead

A great story for kids who befriend someone who may not be honest with them. Two boys, neighbors in a NYC apartment building, team up to spy on a resident they suspect of a crime. By the author of the Newbery-award winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME. Perfect for mother-daughter book clubs. (9+)  NOTE:  Read the GRWR review of this book by middle grade author Kristen Kittscher by clicking here.

KEEPING SAFE THE STARS ($16.99, Putnam Juvenile)
by Sheila O’Connor

For fans of Kate DiCamillo or Deb Wiles. A beautifully written story about a girl trying to keep her siblings together when their guardian gets sick. Strong themes of family loyalty, leadership, challenge of honesty.  Pride, the eldest girl is a terrific lead character. This funny and sweet story is perfect for mother-daughter book clubs. (9+)

Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events.

Middle Grade Mystery Liar & Spy Should Top Reading Lists

Author Kristen Kittscher reviews a middle grade novel for thinking kids.

If Rebecca Stead found it difficult to follow up her 2010 Newbery award winner, WHEN YOU REACH ME, you’d never know it. Her latest book, LIAR & SPY ($15.99, Random House Children’s Books, ages 9-12), is a stunningly well-crafted, moving story of friendship, trust, and nonconformity that’s sure to soar to the top of 2012 award lists, as well.

In the same spare, lyrical style that packed an emotional punch in When You Reach Me, Stead tells the story of Georges, a seventh grade boy adjusting to difficult new realities at home and school. His best friend has abandoned him for a cool crowd, bullies are targeting him, and he’s just moved out of the only home he’s ever known after his father lost his job. Georges finds some distraction from his troubles when he strikes up a friendship with his new neighbor and fellow twelve-year-old, Safer. An eccentric, coffee-drinking self-proclaimed “spy,” Safer enlists Georges’ help in hunting down the truth about their mysterious neighbor Mr. X, whom Safer suspects is a serial killer. While Georges does indeed get to the bottom of the mystery, in the process he discovers hard truths about himself and friendship.

LIAR & SPY is not for kids seeking an action-packed ride. It’s a gripping, poignant, and often funny book for kids who like to think. Its mystery slowly builds to a surprising climax and twist, but Stead focuses on delivering an emotionally satisfying resolution rather than a purely plot-based one. Her gift for exploring life’s larger questions in a way that’s accessible to kids without condescending to them makes this book an especially good pick for the classroom or a book club, as it’d undoubtedly spark great discussion about friendship, trust, lies, bullying and difference. WHEN YOU REACH ME fans need not worry about being disappointed by this magnificent follow up! 

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