Newberry Medal Winner 2014: Flora and Ulysses

NewberryI’m finally ready to begin working on the Newberry Reading Challenge. Because of my Triple Dog Dare Challenge, I couldn’t read anything new for the first three months of the year. It had to be books already on my shelves.

Now that I’ve completed my challenge, I’m ready to catch up on these wonderful award-winning children’s books. My strategy is to begin the challenge with the winner of the 2014 award and move back as far as I can go. So, here we go with Flora and Ulysses, the 2014 winner.

Flora & Ulyssesby Kate DiCamillo

Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Candlewick, Sept 2013

It’s summer vacation and Flora Belle Buckman is upstairs in her bedroom reading one of her favorite comic books when she hears a big ruckus outside. Looking out her window she sees her neighbor being terrorized by a huge vacuum-sweeper. As she watches, she observes the vacuum inhale a squirrel and spit it out again.

Flora thinks it might be dead, so she rushes outside and gives it mouth to mouth resuscitation. Miraculously, the squirrel comes back to life. Flora is convinced he is now a Super Hero. And, as his actions prove, he is! She names him Ulysses after the vacuum-cleaner. That is the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Flora loves being the sidekick to her very own Super Hero. As for Ulysses – he loves Flora, especially her round head and her warm heart.

This book was absolutely fun. I smiled through most of it and occasionally laughed out loud. There are so many things to like about the book. One of the most unique things is that it is a combination children’s book and graphic novel. It flows quite naturally from one to the other. I also liked how well the characters were developed. There were only six main characters, plus the squirrel, but each one was unique.

As I said, it was a fun novel. At first glance, it might seem silly, but, really, it had deep layers to it. Flora’s parents are divorced and Flora’s mother is not a sweet one. Flora dubs her the “archenemy,” as she hates the squirrel. A boy named William also has parental issues. The situations are handled nicely with no preachiness or sappy conclusions. The author respects the intelligence and sophistication of her readers in these situations.

The targeted age for this novel is 9 to 12 year-olds. I thought of my youngest granddaughter, Lou, as I read. Lou will be 9 this month, and I think she might enjoy Flora and Ulysses. She loves a book that makes her giggle. Lou also has a big vocabulary and she’ll love the big words that fit the story perfectly.

I recommend the book to both children and adults who can appreciate a good children’s book.

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