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Holy Bagumba! NoveList Talks About Flora & Ulysses

Post by NoveList
Posted December 17, 2013 in Kids & Book News, NoveList K-8 Plus, Readers' Advisory News

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Some NoveList staff members recently sat down to talk about a book that's been getting a lot of buzz -- both in our office and in the book world at large -- Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.
This wholly unique book is a story about comic-reading, self-proclaimed cynic Flora Buckman and Ulysses, a squirrel that demonstrates astonishing powers of strength and flight after Flora rescues him from a mishap with a vacuum cleaner.
Kathy: Here we are talking about Flora & Ulysses, and I guess the first thing we should do is talk about whether we liked or didn’t like it. We’ve all talked a little about it over the coffee pot, and it seems like the consensus is a big thumbs up. 
Beth: Two big thumbs up!
Lisa: I really liked it. I think her writing gets me involved more than any other children’s writer, so throughout the whole thing I wasn’t analyzing over here on the side, I was involved in the story and that was great.
Kathy: What about you, Rebecca?
Rebecca: Oh, definitely. I liked the overwhelming sense of hopefulness. For all the fluffiness and silliness the hopefulness felt…hard won. I think getting that combination of deeper stuff, and then flying squirrels… I literally laughed and cried. 
Kathy: So Beth, I know you love it, but why don’t you tell us why you love it. 
Beth: I know I kept asking everyone around the office “Did you read it? You should read it! Everybody needs to read it!” I sat on a plane for a very long flight and pulled the book out, and you know the lights are low, and I’m sitting reading, and just all of a sudden gave such a loud laugh and got a glare from my family member on the other side of me. And it’s not very often that I laugh out loud when reading a book, and in a public space. I just could not contain myself. And after two or three of these disruptions my family member leaned over to see what it was I was reading. She’s a good bit older than a person who would read this book, but she said “When you’re done, I want to read that.” So it scored on many ways with someone who doesn’t always like what her parent reads but I just enjoyed it from start to finish, and I’m very excited about it.
Kathy: I thought the comic book style art -- when I read reviews of the book I wondered how that would be done, and if it would stop the flow of the prose – but I think for me it actually propelled the story, and filled in some gaps and provided that wacky view of Ulysses and gave a sense of him and what he was all about. 
Danielle: Well and on that note, I really liked the art because of how Flora and her dad read graphic novels together -- it felt like it really tied the two things together, how you could see the words floating over everyone’s head, and also the other thing I liked, like Rebecca said, was the sense of hopefulness. Flora kept describing herself as a cynic and that she refused to hope, but those were just words she’s saying to herself but she still can’t stop herself from hoping. 
Kathy: What kind of reader do you think would go for this book? Age-wise and genre-wise? 
Lisa: I’m wondering if the graphic novel aspect increases its appeal. 
Rebecca: It’s also very browser-friendly, so if you just hand it to a kid they get a good sense of it through the visuals in a flip-through, which is a selling point. 
Kathy: Could you see reading it to a younger child? Your child [Danielle’s son Gabe] is still pretty young.
Danielle: I could, actually. The language, like “Holy bagumba!” and “Holy unanticipated occurences!" would really appeal to him.

Beth: I like the idea of using it for middle-grade students. It gives kids an experience if, you’re hearing it out loud, to stop and think about it and laugh at it and grow with that kind of writing style throughout the book where the character does stop and think out loud. 
Kathy: So, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the characters. Who were your favorites, and why? 
Lisa: Knowing what a squirrel was thinking [big laugh from the group] you just can’t really beat that. 
Rebecca: I think you’d be hard-pressed to not say Ulysses. He’s so delightfully free of baggage, which is one of the things that made the book so charming and uplifting. You’ve got these humans who are all sort of damaged in some way. They’re hurt and even if they can’t talk about it, they heal a little bit through the book -- all in the midst of this magical squirrel who is busy thinking about sprinkles and cheese puffs! 
Beth: I adored Flora. I didn't think I would, but I was captured by her and just loved her all the way through, just as a unique character.
Lisa: I was wondering what people thought about the characters of the parents. Flora said in the beginning she was ignoring her mother but in the end the story becomes so much about her family. It really surprised me once I realized that. 
Kathy: You got a real picture of Flora and her dad reading the comics together. In a way I felt like Flora thought her dad was the only one who “got her.” I liked knowing that about her. 

[Rebecca shows the illustration of Flora putting her hand over her dad’s heart]
Rebecca: That was the part where I cried. 
Beth: What about the William character? 
Rebecca: I liked that Flora didn’t really like him at first, he was another kind of “stuck” person and he kept her a little bit stuck too. And I liked that all these characters made progress. 
Danielle:  And I liked that Ulysses wanted to write a poem about William going back home. That to me was very touching. 
Kathy: Ulysses was just a pretty special person -- squirrel.  Alright, final thoughts? 
Beth: Do you think kids would read it a second time? 
Lisa: Maybe, I can see a kid going back and looking for all the “Holy bagumbas!” 
Beth: I can see, in a school setting, if they’re doing it as a class read-aloud and it’s ten minutes before lunch, let’s read another chapter! There is a compelling force in the story that will keep kids connected and 
they’ll want to read on their own.
Lisa: And the squirrel -- he’s the compelling force! 
Rebecca: The characters are so memorable. When you’re re-reading, you’re not reading for the plot, you want to revisit your old friends. 
Danielle: It’s offbeat enough that I think you could read it again without getting tired of it.
Kathy: Agreed. I think too that as kids grow up they’ll see different things about it. So it seems like it would stand the test of time. 
Beth: I was going to ask if you think it has that staying power. It seems like we agree kids are going to revisit Flora & Ulysses again and again. 

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