Kate Dicamillo; K. G. Campbell (Illustrator)
Holy bagumba! As Flora is looking out her window, she sees an out-of-control vacuum cleaner in the yard next door suck up a squirrel. Leaving behind the comic book she’s been reading, Flora rushes to save him. After successfully administering CPR (something she learned from reading the TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! section of her comic book), it becomes clear that the squirrel has been changed by the experience — as in acquired-superpowers changed.
Flora knows it as soon as the squirrel lifts the machine over his head searching for snacks. She thinks:
HE IS AN UNASSUMING SQUIRREL.
BUT HE WILL SOON CONQUER VILLAINS OF
ALL STRIPES. HE WILL DEFEND THE DEFENSELESS
AND PROTECT THE WEAK.
HE WILL BECOME KNOWN TO THE WORLD
Most extraordinary is the internal transformation: Ulysses’ consciousness has expanded. Sure, he still thinks about food all the time. But in marvelous parallel to the developmental changes of children and their burgeoning awareness of their place in a larger world, something readers will instinctively recognize, Ulysses suddenly finds the world beautiful, full of opportunity, and feels love, especially for Flora. As it turns out, he is more of a writer than a fighter — poetry is his real superpower.
Flora’s mother Phyllis only sees a pesty squirrel. She is sure that reading too many comic books has made Flora strange: Flora’s belief in a superhero squirrel is proof of that; therefore, he must be destroyed. Although they are divorced, she orders Flora’s father George to kill Ulysses! With her nefarious plan in place, Phyllis becomes the villain. So who is the defenseless and weak? Children will quickly realize it is Flora -- cynical Flora, who is misunderstood by her mother, misses her father, and needs friends. With this, Kate DiCamillo introduces great pathos into the madcap romp.
Readers will know they are in for the full treatment when they see the absurd action and quirky cast captured in graphic panels and full-page illustrations plus comic book headlines emblazoned throughout the text. After a visit to the Giant Do-Nut goes haywire, George, a man of “capacious heart” and a fan of comic books just like Flora, sees Ulysses for what he is and vows to protect him. Neighbor Tootie is already in league with Ulysses, sharing poetry with him. Tootie’s great-nephew William Spiver, although not initially inclined to believe what he can’t see with his own eyes (he is suffering temporary blindness induced by trauma) sees the light. But can Ulysses win over Phyllis? Given their shared love of Flora and with the right poem, perhaps he can. And in doing so, he may set right all that is amiss in Flora’s world.
Holy unanticipated occurrences!
Reviewed by : JMcD
Themes : CARTOONS AND COMICS. FAMILY LIFE. FATHERS. FRIENDSHIP. HEROES. HUMOR. MOTHERS. TRANSFORMATIONS
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- “Rife with marvelously rich vocabulary reminiscent of the early superhero era (e.g., “Holy unanticipated occurrences!”) and amusing glimpses at the world from the point of view of Ulysses the supersquirrel, this book will appeal to a broad audience of sophisticated readers. There are plenty of action sequences, but the novel primarily dwells in the realm of sensitive, hopeful, and quietly philosophical literature.” – School Library Journal
- “Newbery winner DiCamillo is a master storyteller, and not just because she creates characters who dance off the pages and plots, whether epic or small, that never fail to engage and delight readers. Her biggest strength is exposing the truths that open and heal the human heart. She believes in possibilities and forgiveness and teaches her audience that the salt of life can be cut with the right measure of love.” – Booklist
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
- de Lint, Charles. Cats of Tanglewood Forest. Little, Brown, 2013.
- Deutsche, Barry. Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Amulet Books, 2010.
- Beck, W.H. Malcolm at Midnight. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012.