A girl, her squirrel, and the power of comics: Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

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You know you're in for it when a book opens with graphic novel-style section about a gift vacuum cleaner run amok that pulls its owner out of the house and across the backyard. It gets better – we very soon meet the hero of the novel, Flora Belle Buckman, quietly reading comics in her room, steadfastly avoiding her summertime contract with her mother to "turn her face away from the idiotic high jinks of comics and toward the bright light of true literature."

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But Flora's true devotion is to comics, and in particular, The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto. The stories and lessons imparted by the Amazing Incandesto will come in handy repeatedly throughout Flora's own adventure.

Out her bedroom window, Flora sees her hapless neighbor pulled behind the inexorable might of the Ulysses Super-suction Multi-terrain 2000X, and witnesses the vacuum cleaner and the neighbor heading directly for a squirrel.

"This malfeasance must be stopped," said Flora in a deep and superheroic voice.

"This malfeasance must be stopped" was what the unassuming janitor Alfred T. Slipper always said before he was transformed into the amazing Incandesto and became a towering crime-fighting pillar of light.

Unfortunately, Alfred T. Slipper wasn't present.

Where was Incandesto when you needed him?

Not that Flora really believed in superheroes. But still.

She stood at the window and watched as the squirrel was vacuumed up.

Poof. Fwump.

"Holy bagumba," said Flora.

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Before long, Flora has extracted the squirrel from the vacuum cleaner and saved his life using CPR. ("If she were forced to describe it, she would say that it tasted exactly like squirrel: fuzzy, damp, slightly nutty.")

Flora and the squirrel she names Ulysses are soon off on a series of adventures – the kind of adventures that Flora had only read about in her Amazing Incandesto comics. Flora will meet a boy – William Spiver – a well-read but particularly unhelpful boy, but a boy nonetheless. Ulysses will discover that he has become slightly superpowered. And that he has a talent for poetry. Flora's mother will learn that she has very little tolerance for squirrels in the house. Flora's father will discover that he is needed after all.

And readers will discover that Kate DiCamillo has not lost her unerring sense of direction: she guides us expertly through a whirlwind of batty characters, hilarious dialogue and thrilling, not to say incandescent, adventures. K.G. Campbell (Lester's Dreadful Sweaters) provides both spot-illustration throughout the book, but some chapters are done in complete graphic novel format – adding to the breakneck pace and visual flair of the story. 

Flora & Ulysses comes out September 24, 2013. Booksellers, I don't have to tell you this, but it's worth dropping everything else and spending an hour or two with Flora and Ulysses and the world Kate DiCamillo and K.G. Campbell have created for us.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Candlewick Press | 9780763660406 | $17.99 | September 2013

More, elsewhere:
Kate DiCamillo: web | facebook (Kate uses her FB page like an extension of her writing in print - she tells stories, she shares pictures. How can you help but LIKE an author like her?)
K.G. Campbell: web | facebooktwitter
Candlewick Press: web | facebook | twitter