Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Read-Aloud Adventure with Flora & Ulysses

Sometimes reviews don’t help.

Recently, I read a review of Kate DiCamillo’s new Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, 2013), focusing on what a great read-aloud the book is. At that moment, I was locked in a struggle to read that book aloud to my children.

The storyline is strange, the characters are idiosyncratic, the vocabulary level is all-over-the-place. Let’s just say these aren’t the ingredients for my favorite read-aloud.

It was as much as I could do to read one or two of the (very brief) chapters each evening at bedtime. More would have left me too confused.

The reviewer’s praise wasn’t real helpful, except that it (and the countless other great reviews) did keep me reading on until, at last, I finished. And now I’ll add this review to the pile, helpful or not.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. An accident involving a vacuum cleaner turns a squirrel into a poetry-typing superhero named Ulysses (after the vacuum cleaner). A girl named Flora comes to love the squirrel very deeply. He becomes, to paraphrase the book, “her safe port in a storm.”

You might not think that such a story would be broad in its appeal or universal in its themes. But then you’d be wrong.

Life, love, and circumstance can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary—the squirrel into the superhero. That’s the heart of Flora & Ulysses.

Ulysses is like a favorite stuffed animal, a much-loved house-pet, or a patient neighbor or grandparent. He’s the guy who listens, loves, and understands. He becomes a superhero by virtue of putting up with us, sticking by us, and staying true to us.

DiCamillo gives her Ulysses the added ability to fly and type, but that’s okay. She also gives him the ability to help Flora through the stormy bits of her life.


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