The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly (2009)
“One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white charges and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.”
This quote was the sole reason I selected this book from the library. My dear friend Shannon had this quote in her facebook status, and upon seeing in my Newsfeed, I thought, “I NEED TO READ THIS BOOK.” Something about mountains of books and peaches and no boys allowed really appealed to me. The fact that it was a Newbery Honor book was just an added bonus. (Incidentally I made a goal this summer of reading all the Newbery winners from the last 25 years, at least. I doubt that I need to tell you that that list is going well…)
Calpurnia Virginia Tate, known as Callie Vee to her family and friends, is eleven years old the summer of 1899 in Texas, where she lives with her mother, father, six brothers, and grandfather. After her oldest brother Harry gives her a notebook to track her scientific observations, Callie notices that there are two distinct types of grasshoppers in the yard that summer. Though she asks everyone she can find why this might be, no one has an answer for her. Finally, she decides the only thing to be done is to ask Grandfather, a man who keeps to himself and very rarely speaks to anyone. But Callie’s interest in nature captures Grandfather’s interest, and soon they spend almost all their time together, tracking plants, bugs, animals, and microscopic organisms, much to everyone’s confusion.
After all, a preteen girl at the turn of the twentieth century should be learning to cook, practicing her knitting, and preparing to become a wife, not tromping through bushes and streams with a grumpy old man.
And this is the major conflict of EoCT. Can a young Texan woman in 1899 be a scientist, or is she bound solely for wifedom/motherdom?
There are three main things I like about this book:
1. It’s about science without being science fiction (not that I don’t like science fiction, but there are very few science/non-science-fiction novels for kids/YA out there).
2. Callie Vee’s voice is fresh, often hilarious, and really rings true.
3. The ending isn’t tied up in a little bow. It’s complicated. And unresolved. And real.
Although there was a lot that I liked, at times it was a bit slow and predictable. 2 stars.