“Flora and Ulysses,” by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell. (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 8-12, pub date Sept. 24.)
‘Flora and Ulysses” involves a wised-up comics-loving girl named Flora Belle Buckman and the squirrel Ulysses, lifted from his ordinary squirrelly state into supersquirrel abilities by his terrible journey through Flora’s neighbor’s vacuum cleaner. Ulysses, revived by Flora, awakens with the ability to write poetry, fly and lift amazing weights (although he retains the true squirrel-mind food obsession). Together, girl and squirrel battle the hostility of Flora’s distracted romance-writing mom, the attack of a nasty orange cat, the defeatedness of Flora’s estranged dad, and much else that’s cold, fearful, and mean in a kid’s world. In the end, through both ordinary and extraordinary heroism, people can once again come together — and the squirrel is included.
Animals and young girls are powerful in the worlds created by Newbery Award-winning author Kate DiCamillo, worlds that sometimes seem like the one we live in (but with better casting) and sometimes seem like different planets entirely.
“Because of Winn Dixie,” for instance, evoked with great solidity its small Florida town, and the girl and dog who are the book’s protagonists. “Flora and Ulysses,” by contrast, plays out in a surreal world that Daniel Pinkwater could perhaps invent, where transformation and magic, science and mysticism, give rise to many more possibilities than exist in the world of everyday childhood. The book is illustrated in comic-book style by K.G. Campbell, who draws a great squirrel.
Kate DiCamillo will be in conversation with Cathy Wurzer at 7 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Fitzgerald Theater, 10 E. Exchange St., St. Paul. Tickets $8 children, $15 adults.
“Fortunately, the Milk,” by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young. (Harper, $15, ages 8-12, pub date Sept. 17)
The king of whimsy writes here a sort of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” for young readers. The copiously illustrated tale (great line drawings by Skottie Young) features a bold father who adventures through the space-time continuum to fetch milk for his children’s breakfast.
Though dragged off course by alien battles over a plan to entirely redecorate the Earth (they wish to, among other things, replace all the mountains with throw cushions) and delayed by running off with pirates, Dad retains a firm grip on his milk bottle … and by its means saves the world. Before breakfast. Though he also comes very close to blowing it all up.
A thoroughly charming romp marked by Gaiman’s trademark manipulations of scale for comic effect.
“Grasshopper Magic,” by Lynne Jonell, illustrated by Brandon Dorman. (Stepping Stone / Random House, $12.99, ages 6-9.)
In this third tale of the Willow family children and their run-ins with the magic that seeps up from under their old house, some cross-cultural information and some helpful ideas on how to grow braver are stirred into the story.
The kids are catching the grasshoppers that eat their father’s garden when their neighbor, Mrs. Delgado, tells them that the grasshoppers are a favorite treat in her home country. The kids give her the hoppers, she bakes them up, and oldest son Abner eats some as “courage practice.” The other kids follow suit. These grasshoppers, though, grew in the magic-saturated soil under their house, and so soon the kids are leaping over the roof. Their attempts to contain the problem (Mrs. Delgado has headed home with a jar of the treats for her infant son) and Abner’s rescue of baby Delgado at a horse show fill out the plot.
This is an approachable chapter book for early readers, and packs a lot of information into its tightly plotted story. It won’t stick in your memory, but it does its storytelling well.
“Turn Left at the Cow,” by Lisa Bullard. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, ages 9-12, pub date Oct. 8.)
Thirteen-year-old Trav Stoiska has run away to his grandmother’s house in northern Minnesota from his mother’s home in L.A., in search of his father — who died before Trav was born. Out of a welter of family breakage, a picture emerges of good people upended by circumstances and the American gift for spinout in the name of freedom. But this book keeps things moving: It’s written in Trav’s voice, that of a basically sunny though troubled wiseacre who is searching for the reality of his father’s life.
Author Lisa Bullard’s first novel (she’s written many nonfiction books for kids) is full of strong characters and has an authentic feel for the broken lives that play out in small, busted northern Minnesota towns. Her crackerjack plot keeps the excitement (and humor) flowing through a story of an old bank robbery, nefarious plots by jerks in high places, and the resilience of some hard-luck kids who make common cause and help each other when they need it most. A budding romance between Trav and a girl named Iz sweetens the plot.
Lisa Bullard will launch her book (with cake!) at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Red Balloon in St. Paul and will read at 2 p.m. Oct. 26 at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater.
“Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron,” by Mary Losure, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. (Candlewick Press, $16.99, ages 10 and up.)
A terrific telling of a true story so fragile, only shards of it survive. In 1798, a “wild boy” was found in the deep forests near the town of Aveyron in France. His throat scarred, he had apparently been cut and left for dead in the woods as a young child. He was seen a number of times by villagers, finally captured by woodsmen and exhibited; at last he was claimed by the nascent scientific establishment, in the person of Dr. Itard, of the Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris.
Journalist Mary Losure writes carefully through these slim facts; she speculates, sometimes, on the boy’s life from which they spring, but never imposes her interpretation. Wild Boy is both sensorially rich and beautifully restrained, respectful of the boy’s strangeness yet acutely aware of the significance of each scant surviving detail of his life — she shows the kind of empathy that we all, no doubt, would wish for.
Both Losure’s lovely language and Timothy Ering’s dozen gorgeous charcoal drawings make this a book parents and children could enjoy together.
“I’m With Stupid,” by Geoff Herbach (third volume in the Felton Reinstein series). (Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99, ages 12 and up.)
Kids and reviewers alike loved Geoff Herbach’s first two books about the nerd-athlete Felton Reinstein. “I’m With Stupid” covers Felton’s senior year in high school. There’s plenty of darkness — Felton deals with the sorrow and fear that followed his father’s suicide; the anger and disappointment of friends who go wrong and family members who fall into terrible relationships. But there’s plenty of humor, too, and a sweet spirit that persists in trying to get things right even through waves of wrong.
Herbach’s small-town Wisconsin setting proves that greatness can be found anywhere on Earth, and that nowhere is perfect.
Kids will like reading the books in sequence, getting to know the rich cast of characters and reveling in a long-term relationship with Felton’s smart, funny, endearing voice, but “I’m With Stupid” can stand alone, as well.
Geoff Herbach will read, with Stephanie Wilbur Ash, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 9 at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley.
Ann Klefstad is a writer and artist in Duluth.