By Hope Katz Gibbs
FLORA BELLE BUCKMAN is
10 years old and hates romance.
She prides herself on being a
natural-born cynic, and while
she wants to believe in superhe-roes, she just can’t make her cynical self buy into the premise.
At least, that’s how she feels
during the summer after fifth
grade, when she’s reading The
Illuminated Adventures of the
With the whoosh of a vacuum cleaner, all that changes. Flora’s neighbor
Mrs. Tickham is using her new Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X on the lawn
when she sucks up an unassuming squirrel—
an incident that magically gives him superpowers. From then on, the squirrel is known
as (what else?) Ulysses.
“Holy bagumba,” shouts Flora, witnessing the scene from her bedroom window.
Holy bagumba, indeed.
Magical realism abounds on the 240
pages of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses: The
Illuminated Adventures. After his encounter
with the 2000X, Ulysses is born anew with
powers of strength, flight and misspelled
poetry. Their friendship helps Flora discover
the power of having an open heart.
Themes of hope and belief amid impossible circumstances are the hallmark of
DiCamillo’s wildly popular novels. Her 12
New York Times best-selling titles have sold
20. 5 million copies and been translated into
Adding to the intrigue of this latest tome
are illustrations by former Hollywood interior
designer Keith Gordon
Campbell, whose genre-bending
approach blends graphic and
comic style in the artwork.
It is no surprise that Flora &
Ulysses is the 2014 Newbery
Medal winner—another honor
for DiCamillo to add to her collection, which includes Newbery
Honor Book (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), a finalist for the
National Book Award for Young
Rising, 2001), the Boston Globe–Horn Book
Award for Fiction ( The Miraculous Journey of
Edward Tulane, 2006), the Theodor Seuss
Geisel Honor (Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride,
2007) and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal
(Bink and Gollie, 2011).
She is also the 2014–2015 National
Ambassador for Young People’s Literature—
which means this celebrity author will be making the rounds to meet kids across the country.
“When we read together, we connect.
Together, we see the world. Together, we see
one another,” says DiCamillo of her newest title.
Yet, the modest author says she’s stunned
that any of her books have even made it into
print. “This almost sounds disingenuous, but
there’s a large part of me that is still hoping I
will simply get published,” DiCamillo tells
The Costco Connection from her home in
Minnesota. “I wrote for six years and got a lot
of rejection letters before I sold anything.”
In fact, DiCamillo didn’t consider a career
as a writer until one of her professors at the
University of Florida told her she had “a cer-
tain facility for words.”
“Because I was 20 years old, I thought he
was telling me I was wildly talented. So I
ditched the idea of grad school and bought a
bunch of black turtlenecks and sat around
telling everyone that I was a writer—for the
next 10 years. I wasn’t writing anything, mind
you, just telling everybody that I was a writer.”
“My job was basically to tell people to
‘Watch your step,’ ” she says. At 30, all that
changed. She moved to Minneapolis and
made writing her priority.
Holy unanticipated occurrences: Her
2000 breakout book, Because of Winn-Dixie,
won critical acclaim and became a feature film
in 2005. Similar to the sensationally scrappy
Flora, this book’s star is another 10-year-old,
India Opal. She rescues a scruffy dog that is
wreaking havoc in the Winn-Dixie supermarket, and, of course, adventures ensue.
DiCamillo’s 2003 mega hit, The Tale of
Despereaux, became an animated movie in
2008. That fantasy follows Despereaux Tilling,
a mouse with giant ears who sets out on a
quest to rescue a beautiful human princess
One can’t help but wonder: Why do animals have starring roles in her books?
“It’s not a conscious thing,” admits
DiCamillo, 49. “Sometimes I sit there and
think, ‘Oh boy, I’ve got to make sure there isn’t
an animal in this one.’ But as readers, we’re
inclined to open our hearts to an animal. Once
we do, we give the rest of ourselves over to the
story. And that’s when the magic happens.” C
Hope Katz Gibbs lives in northern Virginia with
her two teenagers, who were raised on Kate
DiCamillo’s fantastic anthropomorphic stories.
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses
takes readers on an incandescent
The Costco Connection
Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and The Tale
of Despereaux will be available in most warehouses the first week of June.
In our digital editions
Click here for a book trailer
for Flora & Ulysses. (See page
16 for details.)