Monday, September 30, 2013

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Flora & Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Candlewick, 2013.  231 pgs. Fiction

     As Flora Buckman watches out her back window as Mrs. Tickham's runaway Ulysses 2000X vacuum cleaner runs amok in Flora's backyard, she sees a squirrel get sucked into the works. A devoted follower of The Amazing Incandesto comic book series, Flora knows she must fly to the rescue. When she pulls the beat-up, partly snatched bald squirrel from the machine's works, he has super powers.  He can fly,  he can understand human speech, and he can type out poetry on Flora's mother's romance-novel-producing typewriter. Flora's mother already thinks Flora is a weirdo, and forbids her to keep Ulysses, the newly-named super-duper but somewhat worse for the wear squirrel.
Flora's parents are divorced and her father George loves the squirrel. When Flora's mom instructs Flora's dad to kill and bury the squirrel, the fur flies, in more ways than one. A series of odd but mostly appealing characters flesh out the story; a temporarily blind neighbor boy to whom Flora finds herself drawn; an elderly psychotherapist who asks her visitors to promise to "turn back towards" her even if they can't come back, and so on.  Flora & Ulysses has all the elements for a funny and touching story for children and although it is often funny, and sometimes touching the elements never quite cohere into a seamless whole. Some jokes wear thin quite quickly, such as the squirrel's endless hunger and Mr. Buckman's endlessly introducing himself. Mrs. Buckman's cruelty to her daughter is shocking, and makes her eventual redemption seem phony. Kate. DiCamillo is one of our finest writers for children, but although kids will likely enjoy Flora & Ulysses, it doesn't work as well as some of  her other books. K. G. Campbell's pictures, often in comic book format, are great fun.

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