Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Holy unanticipated occurrences!

Kate has done it again. I thought I loved Because of Winn Dixie. I thought I loved The Tale of Despereaux, and The Magician’s Elephant. But, Flora and Ulysses is taking my breath, and we’re only on page 66.

For one thing, Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic. Who uses a word such as “cynic” in a children’s book? Only the most expert of writers such as E. B. White and Kate DiCamillo.

“What does cynic mean?” my class asked, and we had a long discussion about how a cynic is a person who believes that others are motivated more by selfish reasons than honorable ones.

But, it wasn’t as long a discussion as the one we had about “treacherous”.
“Do you mind, Flora Belle?” he said. “Would it trouble you terribly if I put my hand on your shoulder and allowed you to guide me back to Great-Aunt Tootie’s house? The world is a treacherous place when you can’t see.”
Flora didn’t bother pointing out to him that the world was a treacherous place when you could see.” (p. 58)
“What do you think?” I asked. “Is the world a treacherous place?”  The children took out their Reader’s Response Journals and wrote down their thoughts…
“We are reading Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Flora says the world is a treacherous place. I think she’s wrong because you can almost trust your family, and your houses are big and stable and you almost never get hurt outside. You can play and the flowers won’t hurt you, and you can trust your very best friend. When it rains it gives you pretty much a free car wash. And that’s a few ways Flora is wrong.” ~Zion
Not everyone agreed. Many children, almost half, felt that the world is a treacherous place. How sad to think that true at only eight years of age.
“It may be a treacherous place, dear children,” I said. “But, however much is in your power, try to make it a trustworthy place. When you give a promise keep it. When you see someone who is sad, try to cheer him up.”
So many lessons from just one book. I know I will have a lot more to say when I have finished it. For now, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

The Name of This Book Is Secret

When I saw this book on Jorge’s desk, I had to pick it up to see what he was reading.  From the very first page I knew it was a book I, too, would have to read:

Warning! Do not read beyond this page.

The next page read:

Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.

I love books like this! Give me all your sarcasm, give me all your wit, give me all the intrigue I can find within the first ten lines. The kids in my class loved it, too.

Never mind the mystery. Never mind the backflashes to the Bergamo Brothers, two Italian boys who joined the circus. Never mind the concept of synesthesia. They were so absorbed in the story that none of this was too complicated for them to follow.

It is a book for any age. It is marvelous as a read-aloud, or, if you want to read it faster, for your own silent reading.

Two more books conclude the trilogy:
This Book Is Not Good For You and If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.

The Magician’s Elephant

Title: The Magician’s Elephant
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: 2009
Number of pages: 201
Rating: 5 out of 5
Vilna Lutz stared at Peter with his mouth agape and the point of his beard trembling.

Peter, looking back at him, felt something unbearably hot rise up in his throat; he knew that now the words would finally come. “She lives,” he said. “That is what the fortuneteller told me. She lives, and an elephant will lead me to her. And because an elephant has come out of nowhere, out of nothing, I believe her. Not you. I do not, I cannot, any longer believe you.”

“What is this you are talking about? Who lives?”

“My sister,” said Peter. (p. 99)

Not every work by every author is loved by every body. I adored Because of Winn-Dixie. (Tell me, if you will, exactly what a Litmus Lozenge tastes like.) I enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux (especially reading it with a French accent to my class). I tolerated Great Joy (finding it more sorrowful than joyful) and most sorrowful of all is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

But, I fully expected my students to embrace The Magician’s Elephant. They weren’t having any of it. A few of them loved the writing as much as I did, but most of them wanted me to abandon it, a most loathsome thing for me to do. However, rather than have my enjoyment ruined by their discontent, I did abandon it and brought it home to read to myself.

I’ve been reading this book slowly all week. It is the perfect thing to come home to at the end of a hectic day, the perfect world to absorb oneself in:  a world which only Kate DiCamillo can create. I can’t think of an author who can write more beautifully than she does. Nor, in a more heart wrenching manner.