"His brain felt larger, roomier. It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn't even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide. Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light. However, the squirrel was still a squirrel." - Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo & K.G. Campbell
Kate DiCamillo received her second Newbery Award this year for the amazing novel, Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, a story about a young comic book fan who is navigating her parents' recent divorce and the general awkwardness of growing up when she witnesses the transformation of a squirrel into a poetry-writing superhero. (DiCamillo's first award was earned a decade ago for The Tale of Despereaux). As a self-proclaimed cynic, Flora is initially skeptical but becomes cautiously hopeful about the squirrel's hidden abilities. As Flora starts to accept and appreciate the squirrel's unique talents, she also begins to view herself and her life through a less cynical lens.
In addition to offering an adorably quirky and heartwarming story, Flora and Ulysses features an innovative format that appeals to readers of all ages. Most of the book is presented through traditional blocks of text, however, line drawings and strips of comic action by K.G. Campbell are included to illuminate the written story.
This book is wonderful as an independent or small group read, but it also makes a great read-aloud, especially if you are able to show the illustrations using a document camera and projector. If you are sharing this novel with students, check out these resources for further exploring the book and the talents of its creators.
Kate DiCamillo, author
Visit Kate DiCamillo's site to learn more about her, her books, and her role as National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Read a Q&A between DiCamillo and publisher Candlewick to learn more about her inspiration for Flora and Ulysses. Then watch an interview of DiCamillo in which she discusses the novel.
K.G. Campbell, illustrator
K.G. Campbell is responsible for the illuminated qualities of this fantastic book as well as many other popular novels and stories. Visit Campbell's site to discover the beautiful illustrations he has contributed to Flora and Ulysses and his other projects including a lovably quirky picture book Campbell wrote and illustrated called Lester's Dreadful Sweaters, which is an enjoyable read-aloud for all ages.
Beyond the Book
Before beginning to read, build anticipation by sharing a Flora & Ulysses book trailer with students. As you delve into the novel, lead students to reflect on the story using the discussion guide provided by Candlewick. Extend students' learning beyond the book with lesson ideas from The Classroom Bookshelf. Then let students reenact the novel's opening scene using a reader's theater script from the Texas Bluebonnet Award committee. (Flora and Ulysses and Lester's Dreadful Sweaters are both contenders for this kids' choice award.) Then, have some squirrel-centered fun in honor of Ulysses with these squirrel stories and crafts. Finally, allow students to explore their own poetic creativity using the Squirrel Poet Magnetic Poetry Kit.