The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
I love feisty girl books and Callie Vee, our heroine, is definitely a feisty girl. As the middle of 7 children, and the only girl, she immediately stands apart from her brothers. Being 1899, she is treated differently by her parents, especially her mother who is determined that being eleven years old means the time has come for Callie to be trained in the ways of providing for a future husband, activities she detests. She finds an unlikely alliance in her reclusive, science-obsessed grandfather, who pays as little attention as possible to Callie’s siblings. So many scenes in this book had me laughing out loud (like when Grandfather gives her some whiskey and she hiccups all through dinner, to the delight of her brothers, or when a younger brother offers her one of his beloved kittens for comfort because a favorite kitten was “indisposed”) and cheering Callie on in her quest to become a famous scientist – or at the very least go to college. I liked that the book ended on a hopeful note and would love to see a sequel where she takes on the realm of courtship, seeing how she dealt with her oldest, and favorite, brother’s courtship.
The historical aspect of this book made me think of a 5th grader I had last year. His class was studying the middle ages and we were reading to them from a nonfiction book on roles that different levels of society held. The librarian mentioned that if you were born a serf, you were always a serf. I saw the lightbulb go off in his head as he challenged her, trying to figure out a way that a serf could rise above his station and become a king (or at least rich). I watched his fists clench and his brow furrow as he finally sputtered, “But… but… that’s not fair!” Nope. And neither is Calpurnia’s struggle for suffrage. I hate that kids have to learn these injustices, but at least they can really put themselves in the shoes of someone dealing with it and more fully experience it.