Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Flora & Ulysses

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
By Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press
Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal

Like most super stories, it begins with an accident - a squirrel is sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and when he emerges, he is not the same squirrel he once was. Flora steps in the rescue the squirrel and their adventures begin.

I am not sure how I feel about Kate DiCamillo. I know many youth literature people (librarians, authors, enthusiasts, etc.) simply adore her and view her as one of the best people writing for youth today. I have more mixed feelings about her. I absolutely adore The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - I mean, seriously, it's got to be one of my favorite books of all time. But I am much less enthusiastic about The Tale of Despereaux. I like Bink & Gollie well enough, and that's all I've read from DiCamillo. When I heard about her newest book, I thought it sounded like fun. I picked it up because I knew it would get awards buzz. What I didn't know when I read it back in November was that it would actually take home the big prize, the Newbery Medal.

Once again, I wish I had posted this review before the award announcements. Unfortunately, I'm not as gung-ho about this book as the Newbery committee was. I liked that it was silly - it's just the sort of thing that will appeal to kids, particularly with its combination of narrative and graphic storytelling. And I like Flora and Ulysses - great characters that were very endearing. William Spiver, as well, though both Flora and William seem a bit too precocious. One of my coworkers who read the book in early February said that Flora reminded her of me - I'm not sure if this is a compliment or not. And I really love that DiCamillo never writes down to her audience - this book is full of beautiful vocabulary words, words I would have loved to discover as a ten-year-old.

What I can't get over, however, is Flora's mother. She is just downright awful. I get that, a lot of the time, we are seeing her through Flora's eyes and perhaps Flora doesn't understand everything that has happened between her parents or in their lives. But to me, that doesn't justify how terrible Flora's mother seems as a person. I don't know; I just don't like it.

So, this was a mixed bag for me and not my favorite Newbery winner.

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