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Jacqueline Kelly, August 5, 2 - 3 PM
08/05/2012 2:00 pm
Jacqueline Kelly, author of the Newbery Honor Book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, returns to Los Alamos to sign her book on Sunday, August 5, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Otowi Station Bookstore.
"We’re delighted that Jackie will be here again to introduce a new generation of readers to Calpurnia," said Ellen Ben-Naim of Otowi Station Bookstore. "Young adults and adults are really captivated by this spunky, ambitious heroine."
Calpurnia Virginia Tate, Callie Vee, is the only girl of seven children growing up in rural Fentress, Texas, at the turn of the last century. Her brothers (all named after heroes of the Texas fight for Independence) run wild, her mother takes frequent doses of her "tonic" to cope with the chaos, and her grandfather remains aloof sequestered away in his laboratory or library. And while her mother is trying to train her into a proper lady, Callie Vee would rather spend her days observing insects, collecting strange plants, and making scientific observations in her notebook. With her grandfather’s encouragement she soaks up his attention and intelligent conversation and blossoms (after all, she isn’t any good at normal feminine pursuits of the time period anyway).
In the sweltering summer of 1899, Callie Vee ("spliced midway" between three older brothers and three younger ones) figures out that she can attract earthworms from deep within the parched earth if she dumps a bucket of water in the same spot twice a day for five days. She sells a dozen of them to her 13-year-old brother Lamar for a penny, and confesses her "method" to her oldest brother, Harry (age 17), her favorite. Harry encourages Callie Vee by giving her a pocket-size red leather notebook for recording her scientific observations. "You’re a regular naturalist in the making," he tells her.
Callie Vee’s observations about two very different kinds of grasshoppers lead her to approach her reclusive grandfather. When she poses the grasshopper question to her him, he tells her, "I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have."
Undeterred, she hitches a ride with Harry into town and goes in search of a book she’d heard her minister and grandfather discussing, The Origin of Species, and the conversation about "the dinosaurs they were unearthing in Colorado and what this meant to the Book of Genesis." Surely Darwin’s book would hold the answers. Although her trip is unsuccessful, Callie Vee finds the answer through further study, shares her solution with her grandfather, and a tenuous connection forms between them. The strengthening of their bond forms the heart of this humorous, often poignant book.
Her deepest dream that she is too afraid to even voice is to attend the University someday to become a scientist. But since the only working women she has known are schoolteachers and the switchboard operator for her town’s one telephone, she doesn’t even know whether women can be scientists. The beauty of her passion for the natural world and the absurdity of the restrictions placed on her because she is a girl set the tension of the novel, which ends on a hopeful yet ambiguous note.
Callie Vee fits right into her time. She isn’t a committed feminist ahead of her time, nor does the author rewrite history in order to fit a strong female personality. Callie Vee is simply a young girl discovering her world and her passions and running up against the constraints of gender. There is no sermonizing on the evils of sexism, just the reflection from the perspective of an 11-year-old about how certain aspects of society just don’t seem fair. This isn’t a story that has her overcoming the injustices of the world, nor is it a story about her dreams being crushed. Callie Vee, like most spunky girls, pushes her boundaries where she can and lives to the fullest otherwise.
Kelly wisely keeps the ending realistic—after all, Callie lives in a world that places restrictions on her and could trap her in a traditional role for which she is ill-suited—but readers will believe she can handle whatever challenges may come her way, especially with Granddaddy at her side. Callie Vee invites readers to examine the world more closely, for both its natural beauty and for the limits we humans place upon it and each other.
Jacqueline Kelly has captured a descriptive style reminiscent of Harper Lee that transports the reader into another world. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has a brilliant mix of character development, rich description and vocabulary, and historical allusion that is sure to land it a quick spot on school required reading lists, but which also guarantees a truly delightful read.
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