Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is funny, adventurous, heart-tingling. It’s everything a children’s book should be with beautiful black and white illustrations by K.G. Campbell. You may recognize the author’s name from earlier novels like The Tale of Despereaux or The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
I couldn’t wait to read this because I’ve always loved squirrels. They hang about our fire escape and chase away the blue birds and cardinals, but their beady little eyes and jittery ways keep winning me over. Sometimes they lean against a windowpane or scrape the wooden frame looking for some secret passage inside. When they jump their bodies look like a spring shooting forward and when they’re still it almost always looks like they want to tell you something. I never thought to try and listen.
Wouldn’t it be nice to believe that everyone has it in them to save one life? Flora Belle is home reading her superhero comic book when a neighbor accidentally swallows a squirrel with her vacuum. The squirrel dies. For a second his heart stops, but then Flora appears to perform CPR. Mouth to mouth saves the little guy’s life. He’s back only now he’s different. His mind understands things, forms connections, discovers a knack for keen observation and writing poetry. Also he has a name now: Ulysses!
It was as if several doors in the dark rooms of his self (doors he hadn’t known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.
Flora considers herself a cynic, but her heart swells when Ulysses enters her life, and the feeling is mutual. It’s too bad that her romance novel writing mom doesn’t feel the same way. Relief comes when Flora decides to bring Ulysses to spend an afternoon with her newly divorced dad. With a squirrel in tow, even a trip to a diner for some doughnuts becomes an adventure.
One night, they meet her dad’s neighbor, a widowed psychologist who’s happy to believe Ulysses writes poetry because like Pascal’s Wager:
…there was everything to gain by believing and nothing to lose. There is much more beauty in the world if I believe such a thing is possible.
Flora makes it her mission to keep Ulysses safe so he can write his poetry and maybe save the world. After a close brush with death, he’s clearly a superhero and Flora is just the girl to help him live up to his potential. He’s already demonstrated super strength and an ability to either fly or jump really far. What’ll he do next? Who will he save?
The world through a squirrel’s eyes is a magical place filled with giant do-nuts, monster squids and little girls with lovable round heads. It’s a simple, charming story with subtle nuances and a few well-earned, extraordinary moments. I adored this book. Since reading it, I’m starting to notice a lot more squirrels in the park. They’re everywhere and never stay still for very long. The more you watch them the more you want to play with them. I’m surprised there aren’t more squirrel books.