Writing is best accomplished by paying attention, says Kate DiCamillo, author of such gems as Because of Winn-Dixie. Her new book, Flora & Ulysses, features 10-year-old Flora Belle Buckman, a self-proclaimed cynic who goes by the mantra, “Do not hope; instead, observe.”

Flora’s parents have divorced, and her chain-smoking mother is too busy writing romance novels to have time for her daughter. Her mother has also decided that Flora spends too much time reading comic books, which she considers lowly. Flora doesn’t care, because her favorite book in the world is The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, a comic she and her father have always enjoyed together.

Flora is not feeling particularly hopeful, however, until one day, she observes several incredible things. Outside her window, a neighbor is running around the yard with an out-of-control vacuum, and she vacuums up a squirrel. After Flora races outside and administers CPR, the squirrel springs to life with odd new superpowers—it can fly and even write poetry. Flora names him Ulysses, after the vacuum that nearly mowed him down (a Ulysses 2000X).

Lots of things happen quickly in this fast-paced, funny tale. Flora makes a new friend, an 11-year-old brainiac named William Spivey, who joins her in protecting Ulysses. And protect him they must, because Flora’s mother wants the little squirrel dead and buried.

Flora’s guidebooks in the ensuing adventures are her beloved comics, especially one called Terrible Things Can Happen to You! Many of the illustrations in this comical romp are action-packed comic-book sequences superbly drawn by K.G. Campbell.

Like all of DiCamillo’s books, Flora & Ulysses is filled with adventure, but also plenty of humor and soul. By the end, even cynical Flora has softened up. DiCamillo has seamlessly blended comic-book elements and a zany cast of characters into a thoroughly original, heartwarming tale.

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