I mentioned in my last blog that I was going to do a book review. And so I am. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a debut novel by Jacqueline Kelly, is one of the best books I've ever read, for adults or children. I definitely encourage all of you who are writing for kids 10 and over to read this book, and see how Ms. Kelly brings to life her young heroine, Calpurnia.
Calpurnia Tate is eleven years old, going on twelve, in 1899 Fentress, Texas. She is the middle child of seven, three older brothers and three younger ones. She is expected to grow up learning...and liking...the humdrum skills of cooking, baking, sewing and handiwork. All of which she not only hates, but is definitely not good at. She loves the outdoors, animals and the nearby river which holds all kinds of secrets and fascinations. Calpurnia, surprising herself, creates a bond with her grandfather, a crusty amateur naturalist who prefers the solitude of his library, and his "lab", ( just a shack outside of the house), to the noisy and often boisterousness of his six grandsons. Grandfather gives Calpurnia, unbeknownst to her parents, his copy of Darwin's Origin of the Species, and Callie immerses herself in the discovery of the scientific method and the theory of evolution.
As Callie works with her grandfather in collecting the different species of nature, they discover a new species of vetch, which they immediately send to Washington, D.C., in an effort to have it officially recognized. While this provides one dramatic issue, the real issue is that of Callie's gradual self-realization that life as her mother wishes for it to be is definitely not to Calpurnia's liking.
It isn't long before Callie's mother realizes that Callie's progress in the skills of being a "lady"...cookery, sewing and handiwork...is severely lacking, so she curtails her free time and insists that she spend more time in the kitchen and in developing all the trappings of young womanhood which will lead eventually to her debut in society.
Interwoven with the scientific theme of the story are all the ups and downs of living in a large family, and of being the only girl among six boys. We read about the romantic inclinations of Callie's oldest brother towards two different young ladies, the heartbreaking story of Travis, Callie's just-younger brother who has made pets of the Thanksgiving turkeys and tries to convince the family not to kill and eat them, and of J.B, the baby of the family who clings to Callie.
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is a wonderful young girl who is happy, curious, intelligent and thoughtful. She will appeal greatly to those girls today who see themselves as "different", and don't want to be stuck in the "average" mold by either parents or society. Callie takes a different journey to self-discovery, trying to overcome her confusion and despair over what she sees as an impossible dream...the belief and hope that she can to go university and become a scientist, instead of having to give in to society's expectations of the "homebody" who struggles with corsets and spends her days cooking and sewing.
The conclusion brings both humor, pathos, and excitement to the arrival of the new year 1900, and leaves Calpurnia's future somewhat up in the air. What is not up in the air is the fact that this book is written with both sensitivity and humor, and tells a true story of what life was like for young girls at the turn of the century.
I really encourage all of you to get this book and read it. Written in first person, it is a very appealing story of a young girl's struggle to develop her own identity, in the face of what both parents and society expect of her.
Read it! Let me know what you think.