Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Today I finished reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, and had to write about it immediately. What a satisfying read!

Calpurnia Tate is living in a time when becoming a proper lady is the only job a girl should aspire to, but she is terrible at piano, tatting lace, and baking pies. Instead, Calpurnia wishes to be a naturalist like Mr. Charles Darwin, and maybe attend the University. The balance of these two desires drive this wonderful and timeless story.

The Tate family is made up of six boys, Calpurnia, her long-suffering parents, a naturalist granddaddy, and the household servants. None of the family knows their granddaddy very well, even though he lives with them, because he's always pursuing his own interests. One day, Calpurnia's interst in the animal and plant life around their Texas farm drives her to seek out her granddaddy's company. The bond that blossoms between them is the heart and soul of this story. Grandaddy imparts many life lessons as they observe the ways of the natural world together, keeping notes in a journal and samples in jars.

While Calpurnia's own wishes to escape being made into a lady are the motivation that drives the novel, it is largely an old-fashioned family story (set in 1899) and reminded me for some reason of Cheaper by the Dozen. The six brothers are characters in their own rights that become fleshed-out as Calpurnia matures and sees them more as individuals than as a noisy group.

This story lives and breathes. It is the best juvenile novel I've read in a long time. One of my colleagues questioned whether children would read this and argues that it's just another "children's book for adults", but I think the good readers will enjoy it. Definitely a Newbery contender for me.


Becker said...

I'm putting this one on our list to get for our 10 year old niece Emma, sounds like just the kind of thing she'd love! Thanks!

Elisabeth said...

i'm also passing this one along! and putting it on my own reading list. :)