Thursday, January 21, 2016

Newbery Highlight: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by Jacqueline Kelly
2010 Newbery Honor Book

Calpurnia Tate joins the ranks of girl characters who don't exactly fit the mold of what their families and society expect of them.  Calpurnia is an eleven year old girl living in Texas during the late 1800's, and much to her mother's dismay, the activity that gets her more excited than anything is joining her grandfather on nature exhibitions and experiments in his laboratory.  Poor Calpurnia has six brothers and is the only girl.  Her mother's hopes and dreams of having a girl who succeeds in everything domestic depends solely on Calpurnia, and unfortunately for Mrs. Tate, Calpurnia has no interest in such matters.  

Grandpa Tate is not a man who is normally friendly towards children, and most of the town considers his nature endeavors slightly eccentric, but after seeing his granddaughter's love for nature, he takes her under his wing, and treats her as a partner in his adventures and discoveries.  Together, they even make a discovery in the form of a new species of hairy vetch, or weed.  His encouragement and opinions give her hope that someday she would be able to pursue her scientific dreams, even though society is not very accepting of female scientists.  

All the while, the novel is filled with heart-warming and amusing stories typical of a family during the late 1800's. From her older brother's attempts at courting, to her younger brother's love for pets (including turkeys, which presents a serious problem around Thanksgiving), there is usually something happening at the Tate house.  

Jacqueline Kelly's writing is full of charm and wit.  I love how Calpurnia is a free spirit, but at the same time, is respectful towards her mother, who doesn't quite understand her.  They definitely don't share the same views, and her mother does require her to spend time learning all things domestic, but they are not unkind or disrespectful towards each other.  I feel like so many of the free spirited girl characters in other books are disrespectful, but I appreciated Jacqueline Kelly's approach to Calpurnia.  I imagine there are a lot of girls who find themselves relating to Calpurnia, and I think she is an excellent role model for any young girl finding themselves in interests that are different than what society thinks they should be interested in, including science.

My Rating: 4.5 stars (I would recommend it to anyone to read, and plan on reading the second book in the Calpurnia series.)
Perfect for: 10-12 year old girls (and adults!).

Happy Reading!

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