Monday, April 13, 2015

Newbery Review: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo (2014 Medal Winner)

As a fan of Kate DiCamillo’s classics, Because of Winn Dixie and Tale of Despereaux, I was eager to read when I picked up this cheery, quirky yellow volume at the library. But quirk can turn into weird, and unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love this book, I was hardly impressed.

Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic, with an obsession with comic strips and a bone to pick with her divorced, flippant, romance-writing mother. But things go haywire when her neighbor sucks up an innocent, donut-loving squirrel through her vacuum cleaner. Ulysses, the squirrel, becomes a poet, an aspiring superhero, and a friend to Flora, who feels misunderstood by her family.

While the premise sounded fun and spunky, it dissolved into a strange mess much like the gunk Flora’s favorite superhero falls into. I couldn’t tell at times if something was supposed to be funny. The characters, while starting with promise, ended up being rather two-dimensional, with the same characteristics repeated over and over in attempts at humor that had me wonder “what?” as opposed to laughing. I kept hoping that Flora would stop being so sour and fed up with everything, and that Ulysses would be cuter, that her mother and father would be something other than stupid grown-ups, as Flora sees them (by the way, "stupid grown-up" parents in MG are a pet peeve of mine). I kept hoping especially that William Spiver would break my heart in some small middle grade way the way Jonah did in Snicker of Magic, but it didn’t happen.

The illustrations were probably my favorite part. I’m a big fan of The Adventures of Tintin, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, so to see action-focused, black and white visual interludes was a relief from the confusing narrative, though the action itself rarely amounted to much. 

In short, while Flora and Ulysses probably wouldn’t appear on the list of Flora’s TERRIBLE THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU, it definitely needed something super to save it from gimmicks and deflation.

Rating: Two stars
Favorite Character: William Spiver
Recommended age: 7+

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reviews, check out Shannon's blog here.


  1. I loved this very funny story... just have to be in the right mood for total silliness I think.

  2. I've looked at this one but never read it. Thanks for your insightful comments. I did love Because of Winn Dixie so when time allows I may give this a try.

  3. I didn't buy this one. Talking animal PLUS super quirky... my students didn't have any interest in it. Maybe for younger students than middle school?

  4. I didn't buy this one. Talking animal PLUS super quirky... my students didn't have any interest in it. Maybe for younger students than middle school?

  5. I've never read this one, and just reading the summary makes me want to throw something at a wall. This book is trying way too hard to be entertaining.

  6. I haven't read it, but my hubby and kids did. The kids loved it, but my husband not so much, for the same reasons you mentioned. Dumb adults in MG are a pet peeve of mine too. I do love Camillo's other work, especially Winn Dixie and Tale of Desperaux.

  7. Awww, I'm sorry you didn't like it :-( It was a little bit too abstract for me as well, but thank you for the honest review! And I agree with you on the "dumb adults" thing, although sometimes I think it adds to the overall quirkiness of the story.

  8. thanks for your thoughts. I started reading this book a month or so ago and didn't finish it. Unfortunately, I couldn't get into it. I love, love love Because of Winn Dixie, though.

  9. Very insightful review. Thanks for the heads up. Not every book is for every reader, and this one sounds like it might be great for kids but not the rest of us.