Young Readers wrap up season with Newbery winning ‘Flora and Ulysses’

YR_TBA_FloraHis chest may be missing patches of fur from an accident with a wizard vacuum — and the emblematic, glowing “S” — but Ulysses the squirrel is a superhero.

With super strength, the ability to fly and poetry that makes one’s heart flutter as fast as his tail, Ulysses not only saves the day, but also wins the hearts of all who come to know him.

This week’s CLSC Young Readers selection is Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery winning Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, a novel in which young readers meet Flora, a self-professed cynic, and her amazing squirrel, Ulysses.

The tale weaves cartoons, humor and mystery into a narrative of love, thereby making Flora and Ulysses a book the whole family can enjoy.

At 4:15 p.m. today in the CPOA Dog Park, adjacent to the Turner Community Center, young readers and their families are encouraged to bring their well-behaved dogs — or a photo of their animals — and their imaginations to share stories of adventures that they have had with their pets.

“We create voices for our pets,” said Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services. “We create back stories for them, and they become part of our family. We attach these kind of human characteristics to them. That is another form of storytelling. … It’s still tapping into that imagination, and it’s those moments as a family that you’re connecting in very creative ways that can be wonderful to share with one another. I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that it just got me so excited about not only the program, but also just sensing the kind of joy kids on the grounds would have reading and talking about the book.”

In DiCamillo’s book, Flora has an affinity for comics, especially The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto! and its companion, Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, a series she and her father used to read with her before her parents divorced.

With personal sayings such as, “Don’t hope. Observe,” Flora is skeptical of love, an ailment that one of Ulysses’ many super powers helps to assuage. DiCamillo said that, though she did not intentionally see poetry as a superpower, it led the way to discovering the powers that humans have and often take for granted.

“It surprised me when I discovered that Ulysses could write poetry,” said DiCamillo, who is also the author of numerous children’s books, including Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux. “I didn’t think of it as a superpower. I just thought; ‘Oh, that’s funny — a squirrel who can fly and who is strong, and also he types.’  And then, as I worked on the story, I slowly realized that it is a superpower, to be able to express yourself. And also, that it is a superpower to be able to love.”

The ability to give and receive love plays a major role in this whimsical book.

Being 10 years old can be challenging for any child. For Flora, the culmination of her experiences leave her with a feeling of otherness and a homesickness for “her own kind.”

As a child, DiCamillo said that she faced these same feelings herself.

“I surely felt a sense of otherness when I was a kid,” DiCamillo said. “And for those kids who feel it now, I say: Be brave. Be yourself. You will find your place, your people.”

Ewalt said that he is happy to share Flora and Ulysses as the last Young Readers book of the season, and appreciates the literature that children enjoy every year.

“If you look at the historic list of the Young Readers program, which is now 20 years old, there are a few authors you see again and again,” Ewalt said. “The work that DiCamillo does, first and foremost, shows a genuine respect for young readers, and it’s the quality of literature that I’m thankful for and allows us to have quality young readers programs year after year.”

For the young readers who will meet her characters for years to come, DiCamillo said that she wants readers to thoroughly enjoy Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and take some of life’s best lessons away from its pages.

“I want readers to laugh when they read Flora and Ulysses,” DiCamillo said. “I want them to feel less alone. I want them to know that poetry and love and squirrels all matter. I want them to know that it is OK to hope.”