Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Flora and UlyssesBook Review:  Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

“The story begins with a vacuum cleaner. And a squirrel. Or, to be more precise, a squirrel who gets sucked into a Ulysses Super Suction wielded by Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham. The rather hairless squirrel that is spit out is not the same one that went in.”  Booklist

Luckily for the squirrel, Flora has read every issue of Terrible Things Can Happen to You! and knows CPR.  She names her new companion after the vacuum cleaner that nearly took his life and intends to keep him as a pet.  She soon discovers that he’s been transformed from an ordinary squirrel, to one with superhero strength, the ability to fly, and a love for poetry.  And he’s just what this self-proclaimed cynic of a little girl needs.  She envisions that together they will conquer villains, defend the defenseless, and protect the weak.  Or something.  And they do.

DiCamillo takes a sad situation, two lonely children who have been let down by their parents, and offers something hopeful.  Flora believes that her mother loves a lamp more than she loves her — and she misses her dad who now lives in an apartment across town.  William Spiver’s mother has sent him to stay with his Great Aunt, Flora’s neighbor, Mrs. Tickham.  Ulysses brings the children together and helps them break down the protective walls they’ve each built for themselves.  And by the end of the book, he’s helped the adults see things more clearly as well.  He’s definitely a superhero as far as my daughter and I are concerned!

Endearing characters and a rich vocabulary make this a standout book.  The comic-style graphics which accompany the story complement it nicely.

Miss D and I hope you enjoy this book as much as we did!

Our favorite parts:

Becky:  The poem Ulysses wrote for Flora.  Quotes like “This  malfeasance must be stopped.”

Miss D:  Ulysses got superpowers after being vacuumed!  And it was a really cute story with lots of twists and turns.  The poem Ulysses wrote for Flora.

Discussion Questions:  http://www.floraandulysses.com/teacher.html , http://samanthagreenmysteries.com/src


What We Found in the Sofa by Henry Clark, The Lost Treasure of Tuckernuck by Emily Fairlie, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee.

Grades:  3 -6



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Rump, the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

RumpBook Review:  Rump, the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Twelve-year old Rump has been raised with the belief that his name is his destiny.  And while a name that seems to only be a playful term for butt doesn’t seem like it holds much of a destiny, he’s also always believed that Rump was not the full name his mother intended for him.  But how can he discover his true name when his mother was the only one who knew it and she died shortly after he was born?

When he finds his mother’s spindle, his life takes a dramatic turn.  He can spin straw into gold.  He’s thrilled at first, believing that he and his Gran will never have to go hungry again.  But then he realizes there’s a catch to his magic — he can trade the gold that he spins but he has to accept whatever is offered to him, no matter how unequal the trade.  No matter how repellent.  He doesn’t think his situation can get any worse but it can.  It does.

Spun gold is finer than the meager bits of gold typically found in the mountains and it captures the attention of the King who comes to village in search of its source.  For reasons of his own, the miller claims that his daughter is the spinner of the gold.  And Rump knows that he must spin for her or the king will punish her and the people of The Mountain.  But, because magic operates under its own rules, she must offer him something in return.  And unfortunately, Opal lacks imagination, locking both of them into an agreement neither wants.

Desperate to escape the terrible promise Opal has made him, Rump goes on a quest to find his mother’s family, hoping they know something about his magic that he does not.

My daughter and I loved this book!!!  Shurtliff offers a touching and believable twist on a familiar tale.  Every story has at least two perspectives, after all, and we enjoyed being given a glimpse of the “villain’s” side of things.  We also loved the hints about other fairytale characters alternate stories.  Gnomes who run messages, pixies who love gold, and trolls who want pets are just a few of the lighthearted details that make this such a fun read.

Discussion Questions:  http://lieslshurtliff.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Rump-Readers-Guide.pdf

Readalikes:   A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Half Upon A Time by James Riley, The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman, Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff.

Grades: 3-6


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Upcoming Book Reviews


Until I actually write the reviews, here’s a preview of what to expect:


The Raft by Fred Strydom.  Slow but intriguing.

The Sorcerer’s Daughter by Terry Brooks.  Another disappointment.  Brooks needs to hire me as his editor NOW.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.  Wow.  Just finished this one on my break today and plan to read Parable of the Talents this weekend.  Wow.

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva.  Gripping.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  Fun.

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Murder at the 42nd Street Library

Murder at the 42nd Street LibraryBook Review:  Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane

Raymond Ambler is the curator of the crime fiction collection at the New York Public Library.  He has a reputation for curiosity, particularly regarding homicides, so when someone is murdered inside the library, everyone knows that he’s going to look for answers.  And practically everyone has something to hide.

I wanted to like this book.  The author clearly loves libraries and librarians and has done his research.  But . . . this book annoyed me.  There’s the relationship between Raymond and Adele; I’m not fond of romances when one person is old enough to be the other’s parent.  Ick.  Then, there’s Harry, the ex-priest.  I really take issue with religion placing more importance on the rule rather than what’s right.  I don’t understand the thinking that God cares more about the sanctity of the confessional than alerting Child Protective Services when it’s confessed that a child is being sexually abused.  Even in a fictional setting,  this situation makes me livid.

Adding to my annoyance is the relative ease with which everything comes together.  I could have wrapped my head around the fact that a group of people who knew each other thirty years ago came together again around a specific collection at the 42nd Street Library.  But the missing daughter has just been blocks away the whole time?  And she somehow received her dad’s letters when he didn’t know where she was?  And she’s being protected by a thug who originally meant to kill her?  And she’s closely connected to Raymond as well?

The characters are worse.  There’s not a likable character in our small group of sexually charged scholars.  Emily’s would-be murderer isn’t developed enough for me to believe that he would spare her or care about her well-being.  And why is everyone so determined to save Max?  What little character development there is of our scholars doesn’t lend itself to believing that any one of them would place another’s safety above their own.

And then there’s the whole sexual abuse of a child storyline.  It’s a difficult topic and honestly, I would have avoided the book if I’d known that it was central to the story.  As difficult a topic as it is, it can be handled differently; Nevada Barr’s Hard Truth made me physically ill but it didn’t feel salacious; the details of Emily’s story did.




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Station Eleven

Station ElevenBook Review:  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A flu pandemic devastates country after country, causing civilization as we know it to come to an end.  Moving forward and backward in time, Mandel introduces us to the lives of a handful of characters, showing us glimpses of their lives before and after the pandemic.  This approach works well for this storyline.

It was an interesting premise and Station Eleven has received rave reviews.  I liked it but I didn’t love it.  I liked the zoomed-in perspective of events in each person’s life; I  just didn’t connect with any of the characters.





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Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

Here Lies the LibrarianBook Review:  Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck

A tornado sweeps through a small town in Hendricks County, Indiana and does more than just wreak havoc in Buelahland Cemetery.  Interest in its aftermath brings four library students from nearby Butler University on a roadtrip to see the damage.  The town will never be the same; nor will the lives of Peewee and Jake McGrath.

A couple of squeamish moments aside, this was a fun book.  I loved Peewee and Jake’s relationship — parentless from a young age, they share a deep bond and look out for one another.  Their house may not be the tidiest and their best meals may come from neighbors, but Jake does his best to look out for his younger sibling.  Together they run a small garage and try to fend off the ne’er-do-well Kirbys who run the town’s other, less reputable garage.

Having attended Butler University myself, although long after they discontinued their library science program, I was delighted when Irene Ridpath and her sorority sisters entered the scene. Daughters of wealthy men, whose fathers collectively purchase their librarian positions for them, their lives of privilege are a stark contrast to the McGraths’.  We get to know Irene the best.  While her background may be difficult to relate to, her kindness, generosity, and independence make her an incredibly likable character.  Highly intelligent, Irene is also quick enough with her responses to make a Gilmore Girl proud.  Set aside any librarian stereotypes — Irene is the quintessential librarian.

Set in 1914, today’s teens may find themselves hitting the dictionary for terms like chiffonier, but even without a dictionary, it’s an easy read.  The characters are quirky, the language is folksy, and the humor is laugh out loud. Car enthusiasts will appreciate Jake’s determination to build his own car, Peewee’s first driving lesson in a Stoddard-Dayton, and a detailed account of a ten-mile stock auto dirt-track race.  Highly recommended.






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Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins

Book Review:  Upside Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily JenkinsUpside Down Magic

Nory has a strong talent for transforming into animals but can’t limit herself to one species at a time; instead of turning into a kitten, she’s likely to turn into a dritten (dragon/kitten) or a bitten (beaver/kitten).  She thinks that’s bad but Bax can’t manage transforming into animals at all; he transforms into stone.  And instead of charming animals, like other Fuzzies, Pepper terrifies them.  Together with Andres, Elliot, Sebastian, Marigold, and Willa,they are the first students in Dunwiddle Magic School’s class for Upside Down Magic.  Unlike many other educators, including Nory’s own father, Miss Star insists that unusual magical abilities are nothing to be ashamed of and encourages her students to embrace their unique talents.

My 8 year-old and I love this book!!!  It’s perfect for kids who are grappling with the pressure to be like everyone else, who are struggling with feeling like they are the only ones who can’t quite get it right, or who worry that they are disappointing their loved ones.  My daughter recently suggested that she and I have our own book club and this was an excellent choice for our first title!  The story is fun but it also lends itself well to talking about real issues kids find themselves facing, often with a great deal of uncertainty.  Click here for discussion and activity ideas.

Looking forward to Sticks and Stones, coming out the end of May!!!

P.S.  I believe that I would test well as a Fuzzy — I’ve always been good with animals.  Miss D wants to be a Flare so that she can make smores, you know, whenever.




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