- Why does Flora like comic books so much?
Caregiver Note: When the movie starts, Flora’s parents are separated, and her dad has moved out of the house. He is a comic book writer and is likely where Flora initially got her love of superhero stories from. Reading comics likely makes her feel closer to her dad, whom she misses. But Flora also loves comics because of the stories they tell about overcoming trauma, helping others, self-discovery, and hope. Comics and superheroes often resonate with children who have experienced trauma because they can draw parallels from their own life to the lives of the characters.
- If you could choose any superpower to have, which would you pick? Why?
Caregiver Note: This is just a fun question to get kids talking- would they rather fly? Talk to animals? Turn invisible? The possibilities are endless! With these questions, though, it’s always important to ask WHY they chose their answer so that you can see their thought process and learn more about them and the way they view the world.
- How does Ulysses get his superpowers?
Caregiver Note: Ulysses discovers that he has superpowers after he is run over by a vacuum cleaner and rescued by Flora. Flora tells him that this is the way some of the superheroes in her favorite comics got their powers- by going through trauma. Kids may relate to this idea because they have also experienced trauma of some variety- whether it’s physical like Ulysses or other types of traumatic life events. This can be a fun connection to draw with them and maybe a way to help younger kids understand the concepts of trauma (a bad thing that happened to you) and resilience (inner strength that helps you bounce back after a bad thing happens). Ulysses survived his trauma of being run over and realized his superpower of being able to communicate with humans and fly. Our kids survived their trauma because they have the ‘superpower’ of resilience.
- Flora’s mom constantly tells her that life isn’t like a comic book and it doesn’t seem to bother her. However, when her dad tells her the same thing she gets really upset. What’s the difference?
Caregiver Note: Comic books were a special connection that Flora shared with her dad and he’s always believed in the stories the same way she does. So while it is probably hurtful that her mom is constantly sharing her dislike of comics with Flora and discouraging her from reading them, it’s something she’s used to and come to expect. When her dad starts echoing this sentiment it’s harder because he’s always believed in them and supported her interest before. She’s already physically lost her dad in the sense that he’s not in her life the same way he used to be due to her parents’ separation. And now she probably feels an additional sense of loss that this special connection and interest they shared is no longer there. While kids who are adopted or in foster care are physically separated from their biological families, and that’s hard, they may also be mourning the loss of other connections they had with them, not just their physical presence. One way to help lessen these feelings is to find ways to include these things in their life with your family- whether it’s a holiday tradition, a place they liked to visit, or a special interest like Flora’s love of comics. While it won’t be the same as when they did it with their biological family, it’s still giving them a space to acknowledge these special things in their life.
- In the beginning of the movie we see Flora’s dad at work, and he seems very dejected and unhappy. In a later scene, we see him dancing around the store and making artistic displays, even though it’s still the same job. What changed in his life between these two scenes?
Caregiver Note: When we first meet Flora’s dad he’s depressed- he has struggled for years trying to be a comic book writer and has finally given up on his dream. He’s separated from his wife, living alone and not getting to see his daughter as much as he would like, and working at what seems to be an unfulfilling retail job. However, after Flora introduces him to Ulysses and his superpowers, Mr. Buckman seems to get a renewed passion for life- he believes in himself again and has hope for a better future. For children in care, they’ve spent much of their life focused on survival and haven’t had a lot of time or energy to devote to thinking about the future. When you’re living one day at a time in survival mode, it can be easy to fall prey to depression and hopelessness. This question can be used as a way to talk with kids about what they’re looking forward to in their lives- maybe it’s a big thing like a vacation, upcoming bio family visit, or having their own family one day. But it can also be small ordinary things like you’re going to go to the park tomorrow, or they have a friend’s birthday party to go to this weekend. Having something to look forward to and work towards, even very small things, can give you the glimmer of hope you need to keep going for another day.
- When Flora finds out that there are people who want to hurt Ulysses what does she do? Was this the right thing to do?
Caregiver Note: Rather than try to solve the problem herself, Flora goes straight to her dad at work and asks for his help, which is the exact right thing to do! Too often in movies it feels like kids try to solve problems on their own, so it’s refreshing to see an example of what the right thing to do is. Children from a background of trauma, especially, struggle with this because they may have had to fend for themselves or even take care of siblings. And if or when they did go to an adult maybe they were ignored or punished so they’ve learned not to trust that adults will have their best interests at heart. This can be a great way to have a conversation with your kids about how they can always come to you when they’re in trouble and you will always do your best to help them and won’t get angry.
- ACTIVITY: Squirrel Poetry
Caregiver Note: One of Ulysses’ superpowers is that he can communicate with people through writing poetry on Mrs. Buckman’s typewriter. As a fun follow-up activity to the movie, try writing some poems of your own! If you have one of those magnetic word kits for the fridge- that would work great for this! But if not, you can easily make your own mosaic poetry kit by typing or writing a bunch of words on a piece of plain paper and cutting them out. Then mix up all the words, draw a handful and try to come up with a poem from the words you select! This can be a fun and silly bonding activity but also a great way to work on language and communication skills.
- Why does William get so upset with his stepfather? Why is his name so important to him?
Caregiver Note: We learn that William got upset because his stepfather continued to call him ‘Billy’ even though William said he preferred the use of his given name. William has a special connection to his name because it was something he shared with his father who has passed away. The question touches on two really important concepts- the first is the importance of our names. Names are really tied into our identities and this can be especially meaningful to children who are separated from their birth families- their name may be one of the only connections they have to that. Many people have preferences regarding what they’re called and whether or not they like nicknames, so it is always an important conversation to have when kiddos are new to your home and also to check-in with them about periodically as sometimes preferences can change, especially as they age. The other concept this question touches on is respecting someone’s wishes. William specifically told his stepfather that he wanted to be called ‘William’ and his wishes were repeatedly ignored which eventually pushed him over the edge. For children who come from a background of trauma, they’ve probably often felt like they had no control over what happened to them, and that the adults around them did not respect their wishes. This can be an opportunity to reassure children that you will always respect their boundaries and that if something makes them uncomfortable, they can and should always tell you.
- Flora’s friend William experiences temporary blindness as a result of anxiety. What event caused his blindness to start? Have you ever felt so anxious or overwhelmed by your feelings that you felt physically sick in some way?
Caregiver Note: William’s mother recently remarried (his father passed away when he was younger). His stepfather refuses to call William by his given name and calls him “Billy” even after William requests that he stop. As a result William gets so upset that he pushes his stepfather’s care into the lake and his mom sends him to live with his aunt for the summer. We don’t get a detailed timeline of when exactly during these events he loses his sight but it’s likely the combined stress built up from all of it together. While the movie uses the very outdated term ‘hysterical blindness’ the concept is still recognized among mental health professionals as part of a group of conversion disorders that include losing the ability to see, talk, walk, etc. due to psychological stressors. For children that have endured extreme trauma, they might have experienced one of these conditions. But even if they haven’t, they’ve likely had other physical symptoms related to stress or anxiety such as nausea, trembling, or difficulty breathing such as with a panic attack. This can be a way to talk about how our mental health and physical health are often related and the importance of having safe outlets for their emotions, so they don’t build up to that point.
- ACTIVITY: Flare up Like a Flame! Game
Caregiver Note: For this activity you need some sort of item that can be tossed around- a bean bag or beach ball works great (especially if you have kiddos who like to get their energy out). Have family members sit or stand in a circle. Each person will toss the ball/beanbag to another family member and say, “Flare up like a Flame, [Insert Family Member’s Name Here]”. The person who receives the ball will name one strength or “superpower” that they have, and then pass the ball to another player until everyone has had at least one turn. If a child is struggling to come up with a strength, have family members help by chiming in with what they think are things that individual is good at. When Ulysses is in trouble Flora tells him to ‘flare up like a flame’ as a way of encouraging him to remember who he is and what his strengths are, and to use them. For children who have experienced trauma, they often struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. Because so much of their life has been devoted to survival, they haven’t had as much of a chance to focus on developing a positive self-image. This game can be a great way to practice self-affirmations and help children identify their own strengths and share them with confidence.
About the Author: Jenn Ehlers
Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.
**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.