Heartsinger by Karlijn Stoffels

Steeped in traditional fairy tales, this book offers a framing story and then a series of smaller stories that illuminate the many forms of that love can take.  A boy whose parents are deaf and dumb, becomes a gifted singer who can reveal a person’s life in his own mysterious language.  A girl whose parents fight and curse nearly all the time, plays music that has everyone dancing and feeling merry.  The two are destined to be together.  As they slowly journey toward one another, readers get to see a princess who looks only into the mirror, a sailor’s sweetheart who loves the sea she sees in her husband, and a fluting soldier who saves everyone he can.

Repetition, lilting phrases, and classic fairy tale characters keep this book closely tied to its tradition.  Readers will immediately recognize the type of book they are reading, but will be amazed at the lyrical prose, the lack of sentimentality, and the power of this small book.  Love here is seen not in saccharine sweetness, but in reality, sometimes obsessive, strangely brutal, and always powerful. 

This book is a box of chocolates with hidden depths of spices and heat that surprise and delight.  Highly recommended for teens who want a bit of classic tale and truth in their romance.  Appropriate for ages 13-17.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

In1899, girls are expected to grow up to be either wives or teachers.  So what is a girl like Calpurnia to do?  She is much more interested in different species of grasshoppers than in tatting or cooking.  She would rather spend hours with her grandfather in his shed doing experiments than learning to knit all of her six brothers socks.  As the only daughter in the family, Calpurnia is expected to be ladylike, play the piano, and eventually be launched into society.  Calpurnia is much more likely to be muddy, wet, and dashing about just as fast as her brothers.  Where is the place for Calpurnia?  Readers will love to try to figure it out as they see the wonderful day-to-day of her family and all of the animals on their farm through Callie’s eyes. 

Callie’s voice is so clear and true to character that it brings the entire book to life, not just her character.  Her dismay at her mother’s and society’s expectations, the pull of her own personal interests, and the glory of her grandfather’s scientific endeavors are vividly displayed in this gem of a novel.  Kelly’s writing is crisp and clear, revealing a previous century and what a girl’s role is.  But the book is more about Callie as an individual than Callie as a symbol for any type of feminist movement. 

The characters of the book are so well-written.  Each of the six brothers is unique, quite an achievement in itself.  Callie’s parents and grandfather are just as complex as she is, as are the servants in the house.  The small touches in the text, single phrases at times, reveal just as much as a paragraph would have. 

This book reminded me of Caddie Woodlawn, a favorite childhood book of mine.  It has the same feisty heroine girl, the same muddy pinafores, and the same clever, even sly, writing.  Highly recommended, this book is appropriate for ages 8-12 and would make a great read aloud.