Monday, May 11, 2015

Flora and Ulysses (Kate DiCamillo)

I watched the live podcast of the ALA awards this week and felt pretty smug when the book I was reading won the Newbery Award. Yea Kate DiCamillo! I was very excited to tell my Gr. 3 Book Club kids, who were also reading one of her books, that she won the Newbery Award. I don't think they were as impressed. I must work on helping these kids to understand what a big deal that is.

As I read this book, I often found myself giggling. The characters are quirky and quite hilarious. The plot is simple and silly. I gazed over the illustrations - something I don't normally spend a lot of time on, but they really are terrific. There are regular black and white illustrations, and comic book style pages interjected here and there to move the story along.

I think this book would be best for div 2 elementary kids, or perhaps really good readers in Gr. 2 or 3. I'm not even sure it would work that well generally as a read aloud in Gr. 3. However, for the right group of kids, I think it would be a laugh out loud adventure. I would definitely want to use the document camera on my smart board so the kids could get a good look at the fantastic illustrations are well as the comic strip pages. This is a book that has a simple, kid appropriate story, but would stretch them some as well as it has some great vocabulary to take in (malfeasance and treacle, for example!)

Goodreads summary: 

Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him. What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format—a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell.

Quotes I loved:

When I read this I thought My children are squirrels!
Chapter 2 The Mind of a Squirrel
Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel.Huge portions of what is loosely termed "the squirrel brain" are given over to one thought: food.The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: I wonder what there is to eat.This "thought" is then repeated with small variations (e.g. Where's the food? Man, I sure am hungry. Is that a piece of food? and Are there more pieces of food?) some six or seven thousand times a day. All of this is to say that when the squirrel in the Tickhams' backyard got swallowed up by the Ulysses 2000X, there weren't a lot of terribly profound thoughts going through his head.As the vacuum cleaner roared toward him, he did not (for instance) think, Here, at least, is my fave come to meet me!  He did not think, Oh, please, give me one more change and I will be good. What he thought was Man, I sure am hungry.And there was a terrible roar, and he was sucked right off his feet.
At that point, there were no thoughts in his squirrel head, not even of food.

The main character, Flora, has some hilarious things she says. She is obsessed with the awful things that can happen because of a book she read called The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! She often says, "Holy unanticipated occurrences!" and "Holy Bagumba!" I plan to use these phrases more in my life!

Flora is highly dramatic. She reminds me a little of Anne of Green Gables. And her parents are, well, odd. Her mother writes romance novels, and her father, George, is a stiff and proper man who introduces himself every time he enters a room, as though he has never met you before. They're divorced.

Chapter 23 Enter the VillainFlora's mother cleared her throat. She uttered the blood soaked words again. She said them louder. She said them more slowly. "You put the squirrel in the sack, George. You hit the squirrel over the head with the shovel." She paused. "And then," she said, "you use the shovel to bury the squirrel.""Put the squirrel in a sack? Hit the squirrel over the head with a shovel?" said Flora's father in a squeaky, despairing voice. "Oh, Phyllis. Oh, Phyllis, no.""Yes," said Flora's mother. "It's the humans thing to do."Flora understood that she had made a mistake in thinking that William Spiver was anybody important.Everything was coming into sharp and terrifying focus; the story was starting to make sense: Ulysses was a superhero (probably), and Phyllis Buckman was his arch-nemesis (definitely).Holy unanticipated occurrences!

At one point Flora is in a restaurant with her dad, and the squirrel is in a box on her lap.

Chapter 29 Cootchie-Coo"Whatcha got there?" asked Rita."Where?" said Flora."In the box," said Rita. "Got a baby doll in the box? Are you talking to your baby doll?""Talking to my baby doll" said Flora. She felt a flush of outrage crawl up her cheeks. For the love of Pete! She was ten years old, almost eleven. she knew how to administer CPR. she knew how to outwit an arch-nemesis. She was acquainted with the profound importance of seal blubber. She was the sidekick to a superhero.Plus she was a cynic.What self-respecting cynic would carry around a doll in a shoe box?"I do not," said Flora. "Have. A. Baby. Doll.""Let me see her," said Rita. "Don't be shy."
 ...that is, as you can imagine, when all hell breaks loose.

Updated: Re-read May 2015

I love how Kate DiCamillo doesn't dumb down books for kids. She challenges kids by using big words and great vocabulary. I learned some great words reading this book: malfeasance, euphemistically, arch nemesis, surreptitiously and treacle. 

While it has a child's perspective, it is also entertaining for adults. This book is quite unlike her other books - lots of silliness. Well, maybe I take that back. Mercy Watson has lots of silliness too. I kind of had to wonder, when reading it this time, if Flora and William Spiver perhaps are in the spectrum. I love their unique characters.

I was less impressed with how Flora's parents seem to get back together in the end (or was I just assuming that?). 

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