Tag Archives: DiCamillo (author)

Flora and Ulysses Review

flora_and_ulyssesFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Winner of the 2014 John Newbery Medal; A 2014 Junior Library Guild Selection

Candlewick Press, 2013. 978-0763660406

Synopsis: When Flora Belle Buckman observes a squirrel meet an unfortunate fate at the hands of her neighbor’s out of control vacuum, she steps in to save the day. But when this cynic realizes that she has witnessed the birth of a superhero, both girl and squirrel find themselves with a new bond that will change them in unanticipated ways. Seal blubber!

Why I picked it up: My grandmother passed recently, and I remember DiCamillo talking in her acceptance speech about her mother being worried about what would happen to her vacuum when she died.

Why I finished it: This book had been sitting on my shelf for a while, and in light of what has been going on in my life recently, it’s provided a sort of comfort for me. Flora has been told that she is a cynic by her romance novel-writing mother, and she does view the world with some cynicism, but I don’t think Flora is as cynical as she believes herself to be. She proves to be a hero in her own right when she revives Ulysses after his encounter with Mrs. Tickham’s birthday present. She continues to nurture and encourage him, reminding him when he s unsure what to do: “You are Ulysses”. And when she must leave the house in the middle of the night to find her squirrel who has been kidnapped by her mother, she understands the power of friendship and family. Campbell’s illustrations bring this story to life in a format that blends comics with the traditional novel format. The hybrid format is engaging for the reader, bringing the characters and the story to life, and it ties in with Flora’s favorite comic that plays a key role throughout the plot: The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incadesto! Yes, it is about a superhero and a cynic, but it is also about love and relationships and poetry and food. It’s about the unknown connections we make with each other and the people around us. It’s a beautifully written story that will connect to readers of all ages.

Other related materials: The Tale of Desperaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate Dicamillo; The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia; Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Donna Diamond; El Deafo by Cece Bell; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

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The Magician’s Elephant Review

magicians_elephantThe Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Candlewick Press, 2009. 978-0763644109

Synopsis: Peter Augustus Duchene wants to know if his sister is still alive. A traveling magician wants to perform the greatest magic of his career. Tomas wants to be able to sing his songs; his dog Iddo wants to be able to carry messages again like he did in the war. Bartok Whynn wants to be able to carve one final creation out of stone. Policeman Leo Matienne ponders the questions ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’ Adele dreams of an elephant that comes knocking on the orphanage door in search of her. All of their fates are tied to the sudden appearance of an elephant, and their lives become intertwined in the most fantastic way.

Why I picked it up: I bought it at a second-hand bookstore as a birthday present for myself.

Why I finished it: This book is very lyrical and thoughtful in the way it ponders how the impossible and unbelievable become possible. All of the characters are in search of some manner of love and warmth, but somehow the ordinary day-to-day is insufficient enough to be able to change the course of their lives. This desire to belong and to be understood is something to which the reader can relate. We empathize with Peter’s aching desire to be reunited with his sister. We understand the magician’s motivations to perform some marvelous feat before he moves on. We identify with Leo Matienne’s ponderings, wondering if we ourselves are or could be part of something much larger than ourselves. And in a way, all of the characters have a part to play in making each other’s dreams into realities. The plot does have a very flowing quality to it, gradually drifting from page to page, enticing the reader to continue their journey. What tripped me up was the quantity of secondary characters that DiCamillo introduces in the latter half of the story. They are likable enough in their own way, but they seem to distract from the primary focus of the story and don’t seem to have much of a function in the larger picture. Yes, their lives are affected by the appearance of the elephant, but to a much smaller degree that, quite frankly, the story might have managed without. Tanaka’s illustrations are very reminiscent of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in that they use strategic shading to bring the scene to life. The variation of the lines in the drawings have a poetic quality to them that matches DiCamillo’s writing perfectly. It’s a sweet story about the power of love, the belief that anything is possible, and proof that one should never stop asking questions even if there seem to be no answers.

Other related materials: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Harry Bliss; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Donna Diamond; A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff; Saavy by Ingrid Law; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt; The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

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The Tale of Despereaux Review

the_tale_of_desperauxThe Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering

Candlewick Press, 2003. 978-0763617226.

Winner of the 2004 John Newbery Medal

Synopsis: Despereaux Tilling is not an ordinary mouse. Not only is he smaller than a normal mouse and has larger ears than a normal mouse, but he taught himself how to read, he doesn’t like to scurry around the castle, and he is in love with a princess named Pea. Roscuro is no ordinary rat. True, he does live in a dungeon as most rats in the kingdom do, but he has long held a fascination with the light and the world above the dungeons. Miggery Sow is a girl who has a secret wish, a wish to be a princess and live in a castle with servants and ladies in waiting, without people that will hit her on the ear. How do all of these characters fit into each others lives? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Why I picked it up: I’ve heard conflicting reviews from friends and classmates – some loved it, others not so much – so I thought I would read it for myself.

Why I finished it: DiCamillo’s book has a number of things going for it: she is a talented author that has crafted a tale of an unlikely hero, but something about the story lacks substance and while I did finish the book, I didn’t feel particularly attached to the characters or engaged in the plot. Not much is done to develop the characters beyond what makes them stand out. We know that Despereaux has large ears, loves music, behaves in a most un-mousely like manner, has a plethora of brothers and sisters, but even his oddities weren’t enough for me to root for him – but that might also have been because I knew how it ended the whole time. Roscuro is portrayed as slippery and conniving, obsessed with his plot for revenge, but it merely came off as a sort of cookie-cutter villain that is struggling with his own morals. And while Miggery Sow has a role to play in the story, I found her, well, boring. Pea is arguably the least fleshed out: she’s a princess with a love for music and whose mother died when a rat fell in her soup…and that’s about it.  I wanted this to be so much more than a book about the sort of casual acquaintances one could make in an office and it could have been. DiCamillo infuses the plot with a lot of heart and humor, creating a delightful soup of forgiveness, love, and redemption, but it was missing the flavor I have come to expect from her storytelling.

Other related materials: The Tale of Desperaux (movie), Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; Lousie, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo;  The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo;  The Borrowers by Mary Norton;  The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien; The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary; Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary; Stuart Little by E.B. White; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

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Because of Winn-Dixie review

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Candlewick Press, 2000. 978-0-7636-5007-0

Synopsis: India Opal Buloni and her father, a preacher, have just moved to the small town of Naomi, Florida so that her father can be the preacher at the Open Arms Baptist Church of Naomi. That summer, Opal went to the store for some groceries and came back with a dog: Winn-Dixie, named after the store she found him in. Winn-Dixie is not the best looking dog, nor the best smelling, but Opal takes to him as fast as he takes to her. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal meets and makes friends with a number of the townsfolk that summer, and might even learn a little bit about herself too.

Why I picked it up: It was another book that I bought at a school book fair that has sat on my shelf for many years waiting to be read.

Why I finished it: DiCamillo’s writing is rather sparse and simplistic, which itself doesn’t make the book what it is. What makes the book memorable is its exploration of remembrance and forgiveness, two things that add to the development of the relationships of the characters throughout the story. Opal is dealing with what I found to be a surprising amount of emotional issues: moving to a new town, losing a mother she does not remember, trying to make new friends, and making an effort to have a relationship with her father. Her father, similarly, is dealing with the guilt of not being able to bring back his wife and being a good father to his daughter. Winn-Dixie helps to get both Opal and her father to open up to each other and to the people around them to help them to move on from whatever seems to have happened in the past. The structure of the book itself reads almost like a series of interrelated short stories, which could be beneficial to a reader with a shorter attention span. Overall, a sweet rendition of a tale revolving around community, forgiveness, and hope.

Other related materials: Because of Winn-Dixie (movie); The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo; The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo; The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo; The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo; Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo; Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Shiloh Season by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Saving Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor; Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; Old Yeller by Fred Gipson; Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech; Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater; Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes; Absolutely Lucy books by Ilene Cooper; Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

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