Monday, October 21, 2013

Holy Unanticipated Occurences! Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora Belle Buckman admits that she is a cynic.

She has her reasons.

One of Flora's very favorite bonus comics was entitled TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! As a cynic, Flora found it wise to be prepared. Who knew what horrible, unpredictable thing would happen next?

After all, a terrible thing has already happened to Flora. Her parents have suddenly divorced, her mother is cranky and distant, wanting only for Flora to make herself scarce while she writes her romance novels, and her dad is living in a small apartment too far away for Flora to walk for a visit. Still, Flora hasn't quite lost her belief that amazing things can happen the way they do in her Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! comics, and Flora is right to believe.

It all begins when her neighbor lady Tootie Tickham receives a truly horrible birthday gift from her husband, the towering Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner, which on its maiden voyage zooms out her backdoor and sucks up an innocent foraging squirrel, right up to his tail. The heroic Flora switches into superhero mode herself and provides mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the squirrel. The squirrel revives, minus part of his fur, but with some seemingly super-squirrel powers. Flora names him Ulysses, in honor of his change agent.

"I'm going to try and explain what happened to you, okay?"

Ulysses nodded his head very fast.

"What happened is that you got vacuumed. And because you got vacuumed, you might have, um, powers"

Ulysses gave her a questioning look. "Do you know what a superhero is?"

Flora looked down at Ulysses. Considering the human beings she was surrounded by, believing in a squirrel seemed like an increasingly reasonable plan of action.

Ulysses is super strong, he can fly, and he has a fondness for typing original poetry.  But those super powers are not what Flora Belle Buckman thinks she wants, but in his way, Ulysses has just the powers--Holy unanticipated consequences--she needs to get her mother to love her and her father again, restore vision to Tootie's "temporarily blind" nephew William Spiver, also "temporarily" traumatized by his mother, along the way. Although Ulysses' main motivation is to find and eat a giant donut, in terribly funny and truly poignant adventures this super squirrel manages to restore love and understanding  to Flora's family.  Along the way, Flora loses her cynicism and Ulysses achieves all the donuts he desires.

As her father, George Buckman remarks,

"Holy Bagumba!" The universe was expanding.

Multiple Newbery winner Kate DiCamillo (for Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread)) has in her latest, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press, 2013), a sweet, fantasy-tinged comedic novel,  occasionally illustrated in artful cartoon panels, that is further proof that DiCamillo is a master tale-spinner.  Flora is a delightful character whose cynicism and belief that Terrible Things Can Happen is shaken by some truly fantastic unanticipated consequences of a runaway all-terrain vacuum cleaner that change everything.  As Kirkus Reviews writes, " An original, touching and oh-so-funny tale starring an endearingly implausible superhero and a not-so-cynical girl."

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