Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and Illustrated by K.G. Campbell has already been awarded the 2014 Newbery Award, 2013 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People’s Literature, and 2014 Camellia Award: Alabama Children’s Choice Book Award Nominee for grades 4-5. Now for Kentucky students it is a 2015 nominee for the Kentucky Bluegrass Award (grades 3-5) and I must say this contest will add up to a win!
The book opens with the rescuing of a squirrel after an accident involving a vacuum cleaner. Comic-reading cynic Flora Belle Buckman is astonished when the squirrel, Ulysses, demonstrates astonishing powers of strength and flight after being revived. However, the reader soon discovers that it is hard to be a cynic when you are loved by a squirrel that is “born anew”!
Teachers can find several classroom discussion questions and prompts online. Here a few resources I found extra helpful. Below you will see how I adapted them for a lesson I shared with our Christian Home School Group.
2015 Texas BlueBonnet Award Master List Resources – I found this list the most helpful and used several of the links to create my lesson. Also includes a Reader’s Theater from the introduction of the book.
Resources Provided by Candlewick Press – Here you will find a Teacher’s Guide and a Discussion Guide which includes before reading and after reading questions, classroom projects and activities, vocabulary building,writing prompts, and character analysis activities.
TeachingBooks.net – This site has author website links, Meet the Author interview videos, Book talks with Kate DiCamillo, Book Trailers, Lesson Plans, Kate DiCamillo’s Name Pronunciation and so much more. Watch yourself while visiting the site. The site is fun to browse and you may find yourself researching other favorite books!
Kids Wings – Has a literature guide for $12.95 plus they provide some other additional links for support materials. Be sure to page down to see them all.
Pinterest Pins – Here you can find a bit of everything related to the book. I like Pinterest, but I find that it take a lot of click before I see what I am looking for, however if you are a visual person you will enjoy browsing.
The document below is an excellent resource from Samantha Green’s Mysteries Serious Reading Book Club – If you have not visited her site yet this is must stop. Great resources that contain engaging graphics.
“The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!
Book Club (Classroom) Pre-Reading Activities
For this activity I was working with a local Home School group. The students ranged in age from 3rd to 5th grade. To introduce Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures to the club I first found a few graphic novels that highlighted superheroes. I wanted to use graphic novels since each time Ulysses is seen in action the illustrator K.G. Campbell drew him as if he was in a comic book/graphic novel.
The students brainstormed answered to the questions below as I wrote their responses upon the whiteboard.
What are Superheroes?
How do we identify them?
Where do we find them?
I soon found out they know A LOT about super heroes and are very eager to share.
“She changed into her pajamas, lay down, and Imagined the Words Emblazoned on the Ceiling Above Her.”
CCR: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
As our discussion continued I asked them, “How are graphic novels or comic books different from novels or short stories?” They quickly grabbed the sample graphic novels and began pointing out how the words are written in short sentences and how the pictures told the story as well. While they were reading the graphic novels I asked them, “Why are some words in boxes and others are in bubbles? Why are the bubbles shaped differently?“ Some had noticed the differences in the speech bubbles, but had not thought about how the speech bubble is a component of visual literacy which helps the reader know what is happening in the story. I then shared a few of the different types of speech bubbles.
The students then created their own speech bubbles to share. This was interesting because even the shyest of students held up a speech bubble to share.
I then read to the students the first seven chapters of the book.
Once we reached the last page the students were beginning to predict of some of Ulysses’ super powers!
“Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!”
At that time we paused for some snacks. Cheese Bites and Sunflower seeds! I figured these kids were like most squirrels!“The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: I wonder what there is to eat.” “This “thought” is then repeated with small variation (e.g., Where’s the food? Man, I sure am hungry. Is that a piece of food? and Are there more pieces of food?) some six or seven thousand times a day. (DiCamillo, p. 10)
“I am Ulysses. Born Anew.”
While they were snacking we watched the video below. I selected the video because it not only related to the idea that a squirrel could become a superhero, but it also highlighted Photoshop, an image editing software. This is technology some of the students may even have at home. Some of these types of applications are also available on phones. Art comes in many forms and I wanted the students to see the process take shape right before their eyes. The fast motion screenshot allowed that to happen.
“An Unassuming Squirrel”
Once the students were inspired I gave them an image of a squirrel and some colored pencils. I asked them create their own super hero squirrel.
“Do Not Hope; instead, Observe.”
Now that we have a super hero just how do stories begin? Most students do not realize that writers get their ideas from real life adventures. We then watch the first 3 minutes of an interview with Kate DiCamillo where she explains how she got the idea for this illuminated adventure.
By now, the students were ready for some pre-writing so I gave them a blank Comic Grid and asked them to begin a story. It was no surprise when they quickly began writing and revising, and of course sharing…lots of sharing!
“He Will Become Known To The World As Ulysses!”
“Squirtel!” said Flora out loud; she felt a surge of delight at the zippy idiocy of the word. It was almost as good a word as Tootie.
CCR: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Before the students were dismissed I reminded them that the vocabulary in the book is written on a very high reading level and they may not be able to determine the meaning of the word by just using context clues. I encouraged them to write down and define any words they found difficult or just find interesting. To help them organize their new words I gave them this Foldable.
There are lots of fun words in the book. Some of them are just funny to say out loud. Here are several of my favorite words and phrases: foreboding, treacle, redolent, posit, irrevocable, appellation, hyperbole, nefarious activities, preternaturally calm, concussion, euphemism, unremitting darkness, inconsequential, capacious, sepulchral gloom, treachery, malfeasance, vanquish, arch-nemesis, and vehemently.
Looking for some more book related handouts? Teachers Pay Teachers has a complete novel study made by Catch the Buzz for $14.99 The guide contains a list of vocabulary words and student worksheets.
Actually, she thought it was terrible. It was sickly sweet nonsense. There was a word for that. What was it? Treacle. that was it.
Book Club/Classroom – Post Reading Activities
****At the time of this post I had not met back with the students. The following is what I plan to do with them, but as any teacher knows you must read the room to decided what will actually work. I will revise and post more pics after I have met with the group. Thank you for your patience.
CCR: Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
As the students arrive I will ask them to write any or all interesting vocabulary words onto the whiteboard. They should either write them as a quote from the book or they can create their own original sentence. The students will then be asked complete the “Are you Wordier Than a Fourth Grader? handout located in the Serious Reader Discussion Guide (pg. 6) by Samantha Green Mysteries – Full document located at the top of the page. Students will work in pairs and will be encouraged to read their sentences aloud to the group. We will define the words and discuss how usage develops imagery, defines characters, and how rich vocabulary may help the reader become a better writer.
“Flare Up Like a Flame, Remember Those Words”
CCR: Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
To help the students prepare for discussion and refresh their memories concerning The Illuminating Adventures they will be given a Graphic Organizer for Summarizing the events of the story (taken from One Happy Teacher). The summary just focuses on one character so I will ask each pair of students to concentrate on the major characters: Flora, Tootie, Ulysses, Flora’s Mom, Flora’s Dad, William Spiver, and Dr. Meescham.
Students will share their summaries with the group.
It would be impossible to discuss Flora and Ulysses:The Illuminated Adventures without doing a bit of writing. Flora’s mother is a struggling romance novelist, her neighbor Tootie is an avid poet who both reads and recites poetry, and of course Ulysses, who is not only a super hero, but is also a poet!
I have a few writing activities I will suggest to the students and depending on age and ability I will guide them to create either a poem, a digital story, or a book analysis.
“I Was Moved By Your Poetry”
CCR: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
Students can use Read, Write Think’s Diamante Poem generator to write a Diamante poem. The application walks the student through the entire process. The process is very simple and students can have a finished product within minutes. Final creations can be saved and revised later, emailed, or saved as a .pdf file for publishing in other formats. I would suggest that the students either print their final copies for display or upload them to their student blogs or digital portfolios.
Below is an example I created.
“He will Defend the Defenseless! He will Protect the Weak! He will Write a Poem”
CCR: Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
Now this next application is a bit more advanced and might take a bit of patience for the user. Google Story Builder allows the student to create mini-movies that feel like a document is being shared via Google Docs. If students have used Google Docs before they will really appreciate the idea of characters working on the same document. Students will be asked to revisit the book and look for quotes that define the characters feelings, motives, conflicts, etc. and also quotes that move the story along. Then they will use those quotes to tell a story. Sort of like Found Poetry but now they have to think about why the character would say the quote and if a character would change the structure of the message. Music can also be added to finish out the product. The final product can be share within the student google account, Facebook, twitter, etc.
“And if you truly are a Super Hero How will you Fight Evil?”
CCR: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
As you recall, during the pre-reading activity I asked the students to begin a comic book story with a super hero plot. Now some of the students may appreciate the graphic novel/comic book effects of Flora and Ulysses more than writing a poem. With that in mind, I will give them the prompt that I created using Buncee. Buncee reminds me of Biteslide and Powerpoint. If you have $10 in your budget students could use the paid version to create unlimited slides similar to a comic strip for 1 month. They could either use the provided images, upload images from internet, scan hand drawn images, or use the drawing tool to create digital images. Student can us existing sound bites or record their own. It really is a multimedia, easy to use canvas, just wish it was free! One drawback to the free verison besides only getting to create two slides was the embed code. The code I was given I did not work with WordPress. However, I was able to share via Twitter and Facebook.
“The Typewiter Keys came to Clacking Life.”
Powtoon is a free animated video that has a great template that can be adapted for any assignment. In fact, it already has a template entitled Book Report. Plus any of the templates can be book trailers or even comic strips.. So don’t let the template fool you, students can share any written, visual or oral work. A student could even animate a poem. Powtoon has the feel of a video editing software and PowerPoint all in one. What makes it really nice is that it is FREE! Younger students can keep it nice and simple or older students can pull out all the stops! Below is an example of a template students can modify.
“Do you think that’s good?” Flora whispered to Ulysses, “Do you think that’s Good Writing?”
Creating a Rubric
As educators, teachers have the responsibility to create assessments that encourage students to work towards a higher level of achievement. Rubrics are motivational tools for students, especially when students are involved in process. Students who are involved in the process of creating a rubric have a better understanding of the standards, gradations, and expectations of the assignment. Students also feel as if they have a “voice” within the classroom.
For guidelines how to create a student generated rubric visit the following websites:
“Her mother had bought the Lamp with her first royalty check from her First Book, On Feathered Wings of Joy, which was the stupidest title for a book that Flora ever heard in her life.”
Students can publish their work either as a pdf printout, via social media, embed into student blog, or email to parents. Please allow the students to decide how they would like to publish. Depending on your audience and school policy be sure to take note of private or public sharing settings.