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Newbery or Not: Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

Welcome to a new series of posts called Newbery or Not, in which I evaluate children’s books based on their chances of winning the prestigious John Newbery Medal for distinguished contribution to children’s literature in America.

Many libraries have mock Caldecott or mock Newbery events among their staff, which sounds incredibly fun. However, since I work in a system with a small staff roster and a general procedure of buying only single copies of most items due to budgetary constraints, I don’t think it’s practical for me to try to implement a similar event at work. Instead, I’m going it alone here in cyberspace.

I’m also running very late on this decision, because the awards are in 16 days and my reading of books for the age group the Newbery aims for has been limited this year. I have read approximately 60 bazillion picture books, but the Caldecott is given in honor of illustration, and I don’t know enough art terms to effectively talk about a picture book based solely on its artwork. My appreciation of picture book art is based on whether I think storytimers will like it, whether it’s original, and whether it makes me go “squee!” That’s as sophisticated as it gets. With my literature degree, I’m much more qualified to discuss novels and novel-length nonfiction.

I’m choosing the books I examine based on professional reviews and inclusion on “Best of” lists for 2013 and will read them with the Newbery Terms and Criteria in mind. First up, let’s look at the latest from perennial favorite author Kate DiCamillo.

Book Blurb: 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.

Pub Stub: Candlewick Press, September 2013, ISBN-10 076366040X

Author Tidbits: DiCamillo, Kate. Current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. 2004 Newbery Medal recipient for The Tale of Despereaux. 2001 Newbery Honor recipient for debut Because of Winn-Dixie. Prolific bestseller. Other works include Bink and Gollie and Mercy Watson.

Newbery or Not: Flora and Ulysses stands as my current favorite. Its attractive format mixes comic panels with traditional text, but its tone and style stick to a high literary standard. Its themes include family, friendship, trust, bravery, and the elements of heroism. Cynical Flora and vacuum-enhanced super squirrel Ulysses certainly stand as well-delineated characters. I give DiCamillo a good chance at the gold.

Weigh In: Did you read Flora and Ulysses yet? What did you think? Leave a comment.




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