This book was ridiculously cute! Even though it’s fairly long (about 230 pages), I sped through it in less than two hours. Kate DiCamillo has written other Newbery books (as well as the non-Newbery book, The Magician’s Elephant), but this is her most recent: It’s the Newbery Medal winner for this year. And I can definitely see why. Nothing really traumatic happens (as in many Newbery books); it’s just an adorable adventure with ten-year-old Flora and her squirrel, Ulysses.
The story begins with a comic: An innocent squirrel is sucked up into a powerful vacuum named the Ulysses 2000X. Flora runs outside to see what the commotion is about, and she gives the squirrel CPR. Amazingly, this not only works, but the squirrel seems to have gone through a transformation in his near-death experience. He is suddenly much smarter than the average squirrel. Flora, sensing this, names the squirrel Ulysses after the vacuum that almost killed him, and she decides to take him home. Flora is obsessed with comic books, even though her mother, a romance writer, has forbidden her to read them. She decides that Ulysses is like her favorite comic book hero, Incandesto, and that Ulysses is destined to protect the weak and the endangered.
Eventually, Flora finds that Ulysses can not only understand her, but he can write–he types out poetry on her mother’s typewriter. Flora meets William Spiver, the nephew of the next door neighbor who almost sucked up Ulysses in her vacuum, and William Spiver becomes (reluctantly, on Flora’s part) Flora’s friend and cohort. Flora goes with her father to his apartment, and she and Ulysses get into scrapes along the way.
The characters are quirky and adorable. The best thing about this book is K.G. Campbell’s pencil illustrations, which often take the form of the comics that Flora loves so much. The plot is a little ridiculous–a poetry-writing squirrel?–but a fun ride nonetheless. It takes only two days for the entire plot to play out, which keeps things sweet and simple–just perfect for a book filled with comics, adventure, and squirrels.
Rating: Pretty Darn Good