2014: The Illuminated Adventures of Flora and Ulysses (Squirrel Superhero Saves the Day)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

The 2014 Newbery Medal Winner, The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses by Kate diCamillo, is an entertaining romp with a quirky main character and a highly unconventional superhero. Flora Belle is a slightly misanthropic 12-year-old who is obsessed with comic books. One day, an unlikely accident occurs: the neighbour woman vacuums up a squirrel. That squirrel survives and, Flora is convinced, gains superpowers. She names him Ulysses. The two become partners on many further adventures.

Flora’s mother becomes the villain in the story when she instructs her ex-husband to kill Ulysses. Instead, he helps Flora keep Ulysses safe, as does Flora’s next door neighbour and her great-nephew. Eventually, a detente is reached in which everyone acknowledges Ulysses’s superpowers (how many other squirrels can type poetry, after all?) and Flora reconciles with her mother.

Although the titular adventures are silly things like Ulysses flying in the doughnut shop, the narrative includes a more serious layer in which it confronts common adolescent issues like finding friends, coping with divorced parents at an age when parents are inherently annoying, and having your interests invalidated. It addresses all in a fresh, non-cliched manner.

While this book didn’t have the “Wow!” factor for me that some of the other recent entries did, it’s a solid Newbery entry featuring a unique narrative and amusing illustrations. I particularly recommend it for middle grade readers who struggle with any of the issues discussed above, as well as those who love animals.