Title: Flora and Ulysses
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 24th, 2013
Genre/Format: Mild Fantasy/Middle Grade Novel
GoodReads Summary: Holy unanticipated occurrences! A cynic meets an unlikely superhero in a genre-breaking new novel by master storyteller Kate DiCamillo. It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences. The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him.
What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry—and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart. From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format: a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K.G. Campbell
What I Think: I adore this book. I loved it as I was listening to it but now that I'm looking through it again and returning to the characters and Kate's great writing, I'm in love all over again. I'm going to reread it and see if Peanut wants to read it with me because it's great. I remember loving the description of Flora's mom as a writer. I wonder if Kate sees any of herself in Flora's mother and know that there are some times when I get consumed in my own writing and might act like her...for good or bad.
If you've read any of Kate's books, you know how wonderful she is with words. Her writing is the kind of writing that begs to be soaked up. It naturally seeps into your skin and resonates through you. I love her description and how she looks at sometimes ordinary - and other times not-so-ordinary - people and places and situations and grasps them with her words. There have been a few writing prompts this summer with Teachers Write that encourage us to think about small moments and expanding them, to describe one moment, to zoom in on a person. Kate DiCamillo's writing in Flora and Ulysses is a great mentor text for these activities. I especially think it's great to imagine what you might see happening in the book if it wasn't for Kate's description. You might see a girl and a mom and a boy next door, but Kate brings them to life when she tells their stories.
I love working with students on show don't tell. I remember show don't tell well from my days as a student in writing workshop in junior high and high school. After understanding the writing is a process and that thanks to the process we can write and work on our writing, I believe show don't tell is the next message students need to hear. In discussing show don't tell, it's obvious how influential mentor texts are and how reading has to be part of writing. The job of a writer is to help a reader be able to visualize his or her words. As a reader, if we can visualize what an author has described, then the author has done his or her job. And the author has lots of tools he uses to help the reader visualize. Enter literary elements or figurative language.
Starting with the five senses always made sense to me. Pick a person, place, thing. Free write all the words that come to mind. Then try to describe it using the five senses: smell, touch, sight, sound, taste. If you look at the snatches of text below, there are examples of what the characters see, hear, smell and taste. There are, in fact, excellent examples of each of these. These are just a few but readers might look for their own examples of great description in Flora and Ulysses, in other books she has written, or other books they are reading. By reading and letting her words resonate, students can think about and practice their own descriptions. (I don't eat cheese puffs...but I know many students are fans of those things. For a sensory experience, bring in cheese puffs or ask students to describe their favorite snack like Kate describes Ulysses' cheese puff!)
Read Together: Grades 2 - 5
Read Alone: Grades 3 - 6
Read With: Tale of Desperaux and others by Kate DiCamillo, Hound Dog True and others by Linda Urban
Snatch of Text:
"Flora Belle Buckman was in her room at her desk. She was very busy. She was doing two things at once. She was ignoring her mother, and she was reading a comic book entitled The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!" (p. 5)
"It was astonishing. Everything was astonishing. The setting sun was illuminating each blade of grass. It was reflecting off the girl's glasses, making a halo of light around the girl's round head, setting the whole world on fire.
The squirrel thought, When did things become so beautiful? And if it has been this way all along, how is it that I never noticed before?" (p. 24)
"Flora's mother was in the kitchen. She was typing. She wrote on an old typewriter, and when she pounded the keys, the kitchen table shook and the plates on the shelves rattled and the silverware in the drawers cried out in a metallic kind of alarm." (p. 27)
"He put his nose up. He sniffed. He smelled something cheesy, wonderful. He ran through the living room and the dining room and into the kitchen. He climbed up on the counter. And there it was! A lone cheese puff, perched on the edge of the red Formica countertop. He ate it. It was delicious." (p. 40)
Writing Prompts: Write about one little thing or one small moment but look at Kate DiCamillo's writing and see if you can describe using your five senses and $100 words like she does to make it feel larger than life.
Topics Covered: Family, Friendship, Courage, Trust, Loyalty, Love, Adventure