Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

As a general rule of thumb I don't like Newberry Honor Books but I do like ALA winners and nominees. Even when I was in the age range to be reading Newberry's I just didn't like them as much, probably because most of them came across as depressing books where I couldn't sympathize with the characters and the endings were bittersweet, just didn't feel like being depressed by my reading material as a kid. So I was surprised to see that I not only loved this book but it was a winner, that's happened before (like with Bud Not Buddy and The Thief) and I really wish I'd had this book to give to my middle school self, I would've loved it just as much then as now.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

 I like the cover art a lot, the idea of shadow/cut-out art really fits with the time period and the imagery manages to show the girl and the animals, I don't think a photograph would have worked nearly so well.

Summary: Callie Vee is 11 and 3/4 years old, it's the summer of 1899 and is suddenly curious about the natural world. Like, why are there two different kinds of grasshoppers and why is one so much easier to catch than the other? She goes around asking her family and when her grandfather challenges her to figure it out for herself she does, gaining a new activity that she prefers to piano lessons and her grandfather discovers that he finally has someone to share this part of his life with and begins to educate her on the natural world.

The Good: Callie Vee reminds me of the characters I read in books when I was in middle school, more honest than sarcastic and spending more time thinking about things than getting involved in a forbidden romance. Why aren't there more heroines like this outside of historical fiction? It was so nice to see a character who thinks it's dumb to stand in the sun when it's 106 degrees and honestly thinks the temperature in the shade would be more useful than snarking about it three minutes. And it was great to see Callie Vee learn on her own and make mistakes on her own, yet they weren't huge mistakes that threatened everything, just normal mistakes that anyone could make. Callie Vee not only manged to feel like a real girl but like she could've been anyone of my friends growing up.

The Bad: The book only covers half a year in Callie Vee's life and I would have loved for it to do more. She's such a promising young girl and I would've liked to see more of her (although I'm a little skeptical on the idea of sequels for this book, not sure why but it just doesn't seem like a good idea). I was also a little sad that Callie Vee is another girl character who loves "unfeminine" activities and who rejects traditional female activities like cooking and sewing. Maybe it's because I've seen this so many times before or maybe it's because I really like sewing cooking but I wish that there were more characters who liked both kinds of activities, or at least honestly didn't like them, not just because they were what was expected or they didn't like all the practice (and to cut Callie Vee some slack she still is 11, another reason I would've liked to see more of her).

So, lovely book, not sure yet if I want to buy it but I'll certainly recommend it to anyone who had been thinking about reading it. And while reading it reminded me a lot of A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (which I read when I was about Callie Vee's age actually). I think it was because they both are historical fiction (the non-Victorian era stuff is a bit harder to find I've noticed), the lack of romance pertaining to the main character (but some of the background characters finding love), the larger than life grandparents, and the feeling of a different time were probably what reminded me of A Year Down Yonder. Both are more slice of life than central plot oriented as well now that I think about it and both are books that, while they're written for some of the younger people in life, are well written so they can be enjoyed whatever your age happens to be.