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.