This week, we’re discussing Flora and Ulysses the 2014 Newbery Winner!
Jake’s Review: Flora and Ulysses, the 2014 and most current winner of the Newbery award, is nothing short of fantastic. While I have thoroughly enjoyed several of the most recent Newbery winners, the part of my brain that processes entertainment has rarely been so employed. The deeper themes to be explored and discussed in this book are so disguised as to make any book-shy kid only subconsciously realize that they are learning and growing as the protagonist deals with her various relationships. That disguise is the very whimsical tale of a girl who befriends a squirrel who has recently acquired super powers after being sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Random, yet well-told and organized, Flora and Ulysses is probably the funniest Newbery winner I have ever read. Dealing with the problems any typical, angst-ridden middle school-aged skeptic deals with (mainly in the form of her mother), the story is suspenseful, yet consistently ensuring that the reader is relieved by laughter. Housing a host of colorful and comical characters, so unique as to only be found in this one book, one is likely to find him/herself wishing they could be a character in the story. The nice mixture of text and comic book-style pages reinforces the book’s emphasis on the equal power of word and image, which is also done through the main character’s love of comic book’s and her tendency to imagine certain words floating above peoples’ heads. I happily give this book 5 pies.
Benji’s Review: Every year around Christmas time, I experience what can only be described as a Newbery crisis. I realize that the ALA Youth Media Awards are right around the corner, and that the committee will be picking a new Newbery winner and that there are several books getting lots of buzz that could potentially win, that I haven’t yet read, so I start to ferociously cram as many books as I can into myself before the big day. As a librarian, there isn’t much that makes me feel like a failure as a book winning the Newbery that I haven’t read. That happened a few times at the beginning of my career, and it really bummed me out, so I try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
This year, Flora and Ulysses was one of those books in my cram pile. I read through it in a few hours, and was very impressed. This was a book that I already knew that kids loved. One particular student had already told me that it was her new favorite book, but I wasn’t sure that I would love it. I did though. It was very funny, complex and extremely kid friendly. I immediately started listing more students in my head who I just knew would love it too. I didn’t want it to win the Newbery, though. My heart was already won over by Navigating Early, One Came Home and Doll Bones (Early won a Printz Honor and the other two won Newbery Honors, so I was pretty happy). On my Goodreads, Newbery 2014 list, I had Flora as number 10.
When Youth Media Awards day rolled around, and Flora won, I wasn’t disappointed at all. My thoughts went straight to the kids who I already knew loved Flora, and I knew that they would be thrilled when I showed them the awards announcement. I wasn’t wrong, either. One student had Flora in her lap, and when it won, she jumped up and told her classmates, “I’m reading that right now! That’s what I’m in the middle of!”
The Newbery has come under some criticism over the years for picking books that aren’t very kid-friendly. I have to say, though, the committees have picked winners these last two years. They’ve managed to pick books that are incredibly distinguished, and well-loved by kid readers. It’s hard to do that in a world where Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants rule the circ stats. Even though, Flora wasn’t my favorite to win the 2014 medal, I acknowledge that the committee did a stellar job picking the winner, and the honors. Flora is a book that I love, and one that will continue to thrill my students for years to come.
I give it five out of five Newbery pies.