Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.
from Barnes and Noble website

This book is wonderful!  The cover art, which flows all around the book, continually caught my eye as I read, pulling me into Callie's natural world.  She is a heroine most extraordinaire!  Her quest for knowledge is divulged to us immediately as she looks for the answers to why grasshoppers in her yard do not look the same.  Her thoughts on this matter lead her to seek out her grandfather, a quiet somewhat frightening man to Callie, who spends most of his time ensconced in his library or in his backyard laboratory.  At first afraid to talk to him, he soon sees Callie as his scientific partner as the two set out to gather specimens and talk about the world around them.  Grandfather and Callie have a grand time spending time together until Mother decides it's time to start learning how to bake a good pie, knit socks and other homemaker activities necessary to a woman of the time. 
Before she seeks out her grandfather though she tries to get answers from her county seat library.   She's heard her grandfather and the Reverend discuss Charles Darwin's The origin of Species and she thinks this book will help her figure out what to do.  In order to get to the county library she has to hitch a ride with her favorite older brother, Harry.  In 1899 one has to ask the librarian for the book and Callie is slightly embarressed to ask for this controversial book (funny this book is still controversial)
I stepped up to the counter and whispered, 'Please, ma'am, do you have a copy of Darwin's book?' She leaned over the counter and said, 'What was that?'
'Mr. Darwin's book. You know, The Origin of Species.'
She frowned and cupped a hand behind her ear. 'You have to speak up.'
I spoke up in a shaking voice. 'Mr Darwin's book. That one. Please.'
She pinioned me with a sour look and said, 'I most certainly do not. I wouldn't keep such a thing in my library.  They keep a copy in the Austin library, but I would have to order it by post. That's fifty cents.  Do you have fifty cents?' p 14
Poor Callie-looking for the library/ librarian of today!  I love how the pinched librarian can't even call it a book!   Our heroine is constantly ahead of her time.  She soon figures out what is exactly up with the grasshoppers in her yard, makes quite a few other discoveries with her grandfather and wishes she could make plans to go off to university like her brother Harry.  Oh, and she does get her hands on a copy of that book-it was waiting right inside her grandfather's library for her.

There is no fairy tale ending though for Callie.  Her mother still wants her to learn the art of being a good homemaker and her family is still relatively confused by her desire to go off the beaten path but we do get a sense that Callie will find someway to branch off.  This book would make an excellent holiday gift for girls on your list.
I read an interview with Kelly on HipWriterMama, where she said she had book marks with the cover art available-just email her and she would sign and deliver!  I did email her and she did send them-obviously a very lovely person!!  Thank you, thank you Jacqueline Kelly!!
Recommended middle school read
5/5 peaceful stars

Other wonderful reviews of this book:

*I've lost a few days along the way-started this post on Monday-got called away-Tuesday-snow day but sick, sick, sick with a cold.  Today finally able to muster up enough coherent thought to finish! 


Unknown said...

Sorry you were sick...great book though - I really enjoyed it thanks for the heads up.

Jenners said...

Sorry to hear you were sick. This book sounds charming. I love the covetr, and the story sounds so wonderful and realistic. Great review!