Prather’s Pick: Superhero squirrel stars in Kate DiCamillo’s ‘Flora and Ulysses’
Kate DiCamillo is a brilliant writer. Her books for young readers are unforgettable. Take “The Tale of Despereaux,” for example. It received the Newbery Medal for writing and was adapted into a movie. “Because of Winn Dixie” also became a movie, and DiCamillo also received the Newbery Honor for that book.
And there have been lots more books and lots more awards.
This week’s column features DiCamillo’s “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” published in 2013. The book’s artwork was created by K.G. Campbell, and some of the illustrations are done in comic book style.
This book, intended for young adults, is a charming and funny tale about a girl named Flora and a squirrel named Ulysses. The book is lively, incredibly creative and heartwarming.
It all begins one day when Flora Belle Buckman is reading “The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!” Flora is not supposed to be reading comic books at all. After all, she signed a contract, drafted by her mother, agreeing to spend more time reading real literature.
Flora’s mother, a romance novel writer, claims Flora is a cynic. Flora is thinking about this (also about how she dislikes romance) when she hears a loud noise — like a jet plane — coming from their neighbors’, the Tickhams, backyard. When she looks out the window, Flora sees Mrs. Tickham (Tootie) running around the yard with a large, shiny vacuum cleaner. More accurately, Tootie is hanging onto the vacuum cleaner for dear life.
What happened just before this moment is drawn out in comic book form. Mr. Tickman brought the vacuum home as a birthday gift for his wife. The vacuum is a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 200 X model. It has an extra long cord, it goes outdoors, it goes indoors — it goes everywhere, in fact, and it does everything.
When Mr. Tickman plugged in the Ulysses 2000X to demonstrate, it sucked his pants right off him, and it also sucked up Tootie’s poetry book. When Donald opened the door, the vacuum pulled Tootie outside.
So now, Flora watches the vacuum that is clearly in charge. Suddenly, she shouts a warning to Tootie. The vacuum is headed directly for a squirrel. Before she can say, “Bagumba!” (one of Flora’s favorite words), the vacuum sucks the squirrel up.
This is too much — even for a super vacuum. The Ulysses 2000X sputters and stops. The squirrel’s tail is sticking out of the vacuum.
Flora wonders if the squirrel might have super powers. After all, Incandesto got his powers after being submerged in an industrial cleaning fluid.
Flora rescues the squirrel and administers CPR, and the squirrel returns to life, minus some fur. He’s no ordinary squirrel, either. He picks up the vacuum, holds it over his head with one paw and shakes it. Some crackers fall out. The squirrel is also hungry.
Flora and Tootie are amazed. Flora asks Tootie not to report what she has seen. Who would believe it anyway?
Flora names the squirrel Ulysses. She takes him home and puts him in her bedroom. During the night Ulysses goes downstairs, types a word on the paper in Flora’s mother’s typewriter and eats a whole bag of cheese puffs.
And that’s just the beginning of this story. Other characters include William Spiver, the Tickham’s great nephew, and Flora’s father. There’s lots of fun to come!
Published by Candlewick Press, the book costs $17.99 in hardcover. It can also be found with the new juvenile (“J”) books at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.
This week hundreds of teachers from across the United States and Canada are spending five days in Denver to shore up the concepts and importance of Advanced Placement classes in high school. Moffat County High School has been offering these College Board classes for the past five years, which students can begin taking in their freshman year.