Do you ever wonder where the ideas for a great novel come from? What inspires the thoughts that grow in an author’s mind, that eventually bare fruit in terrific and terrifying texts? You might think that Frankenstein was born of lightning, but the idea, the seed planted in the mind of the 20 year old Mary Shelley in 1817, was nothing more than a yellow eye. Shelley woke up from a terrible dream, and all she could remember was a hauntingly yellow human eye. This feeling grew and stretched into the novel that has dawned countless Halloween costumes.
For Kate DiCamillo, it was hands; The capacious hands of a stranger who picked up her 86 year old mother after having fallen in the doorway of a cafe one cold January day. This giant of a gentleman helped Kate’s mom to a chair, while Kate stood stuck in the uncertainty of her mother’s admonition that she “Couldn’t do it.” Kate was not used to hearing her “Piece-of-Work” mother confess defeat. She was a fighter, if nothing else. Like dominos, her mother’s health toppled, and within a week she died.
Flora And Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures
Written by Kate DiCamillo
The father of Flora is said to have a “capacious heart”. In the beginning of the story this character is a dysfunctional shell of a man, recently divorced from Flora’s mom, and stuck like a malfunctioning computer program. His only lines are his introducing himself to people, “Hello, I’m George Buckman. Pleased to meet you.” He wears a suit, complete with fedora, everywhere, no matter the temperature, situation, or time. The reader is made to believe that this man could very well wear this suit to bed.
When Flora’s pet squirrel reveals its super powers to the dad, he snaps out of his stupor and revives. He begins to think for himself again. He laughs. He stands up to malfeasance, a word repeated throughout this hybrid of novel and comic book. It was Ulysses’s superpowers that defibrillated George Buckman’s heart, but it was the capaciousness of his heart that loved Flora, a struggling tween, back to life.
This exciting book has hilarious and head-scratching mysteries throughout. A boy who seems to have self-induced, temporary blindness due to a traumatic event that he won’t talk about is Flora’s unexpected sidekick. The reader isn’t sure if the apartment-guarding cat or the mom trying to kill the squirrel is the true nemesis of the superhero. And, the question most prevalent throughout remains unanswered at the end: “Can you be a superhero, if you don’t save anyone or anything?”
One thing is for certain: boredom will be vanquished through reading this novel. DiCamillo has a capacious talent for storytelling, and this one keeps you on the edge of your horsehair sofa. (You’ll have to read the book to understand;)
BIBLIO: 2016, Candlewick, reprint, Ages 8-12, $7.99
REVIEWER: Matt Weimann
Kate DiCamillo has lived in very different parts of America. Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Florida, the setting for one of her Newbery Award-winning books, “Because of Winn Dixie” (2001). Her “About Me” page says that she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, currently.
Interestingly, Kate never had kids. Perhaps that is why she maintains the youthful voice of her main characters. She was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2014 to 2015.
Other Books by DiCamillo include
Because of Winn-Dixie (2000)
The Tiger Rising (2001)
The Magician’s Elephant (2009), illus. Yoko Tanaka
Beverly, Right Here (2019)
- Bink & Gollie (2010)
- Bink & Gollie: Two for One (2012)
- Bink & Gollie: Best Friends Forever (2013)
- Mercy Watson to the Rescue (2005)
- Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride (2006)
- Mercy Watson Fights Crime (2006)
- Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise (2007)
- Mercy Watson Thinks Like a Pig (2008)
- Mercy Watson: Something Wonky This Way Comes (2009)
Tales from Deckawoo Drive series, text by DiCamillo, illus. Chris Van Dusen
- Leroy Ninker Saddles Up: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One (2014)
- Francine Poulet Meets the Ghost Raccoon: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Two (2015)
- Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Three (2016)
- Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package: Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume Four (2017)
Great Joy (2007), illus. Bagram Ibatoulline
Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken (2008), illus. Harry Bliss
A Piglet Named Mercy (2019), illus. Chris Van Dusen