It all began with a vacuum cleaner. Popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo returns with a tale of a cynical young girl and an ordinary backyard squirrel turned superhero in Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The inciting incident occurs in the first few pages (presented in a comic book style by illustrator K.G. Campbell) when Donald Tickman presents his wife with the ultimate birthday present – a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X. Neighbor Flora happens to be peering out the window just as the out-of-control vacuum propels into the Tickmans’ yard, sucking up a hapless squirrel. A fan of comics and survival literature (but not the sappy novels penned by her romance-writer mother), Flora turns out to be the perfect person to revive the fur-stripped mammal.
Well aware that “impossible things happened all the time,” she soon recognizes that the squirrel’s run in with the vacuum has granted him amazing powers (among them, flying and typing poetry). Upon witnessing his super strength, Flora dubs him Ulysses and becomes his de facto sidekick. Of course, every superhero has an arch nemesis, and in this case it’s Flora’s own mother who has it in for the rodent.
Campbell’s appealing pencil illustrations are essential to the enjoyment of this engaging and exciting novel. DiCamillo is a master at creating the quirky characters that are the hallmark of her work, appealing to both young and older readers. The winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (and a Newbery Honor in 2001 for Because of Winn-Dixie), DiCamillo was inaugurated as The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature on Jan. 10. According to the Library of Congress, the National Ambassador “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” DiCamillo's platform is "Stories Connect Us” and she will be serving in the position during 2014 and 2015.