It's the summer of 1899, 50 miles outside of Austin, Texas, and Calpurnia Tate's entire family, with the exception of her eccentric grandfather, is suffering from the heat. Nicknamed Callie Vee, the 11-year-old is the only girl, smack in the middle of six brothers. She has some secret weapons to deal with the heat—a spot all her own where she can strip down to her chemise and float in the cool San Marcos River, and a plan to surreptitiously cut an inch off her hair every week so her mother won't notice.
Callie Vee loves making scientific observations, and when her favorite brother Harry gives her a notebook, she sets out to become a bona fide naturalist. In the process she finds that Grandaddy, who mostly keeps to himself in a shed called the laboratory out back, is a true kindred spirit. He not only has a copy of Mr. Darwin's Origin of Species, but has corresponded with the great scientist himself. As Grandaddy's partner, Callie Vee learns to become a keen observer of all around her, from plant and insect life to Harry's courting behavior.
At the same time that Callie Vee feels possibilities opening, the net of social expectations draws closer around her. Her attempts at the domestic arts aren't going so well, even though she tries to meet her mother's expectations.
Calpurnia Tate is not just another "spunky heroine." She is sincere in her struggles to master tatting and knitting, and begins to realize how hard she may have to fight to become a scientist. Kelly is able to show the full weight of the pressures upon women in the 19th century—as well as the excitement of discovery.
Her mother may find it "dangerous" when Callie Vee wanders, but by the time the year ends and 1900 begins, Calpurnia has a sign that perhaps the new century might bring her closer to the future she imagines for herself.
Peppered with quotes from Darwin and timed perfectly for his bicentennial, this warm, fully realized portrait of a family has the hallmark of a classic. o
Deborah Hopkinson wrote about Mr. Darwin in Who Was Charles Darwin? Her new book is Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole.
Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Spring
In Texas, 1889, eleven-year-old Calpurnia tries to carve a place for herself as a scientist. Trouble is, the only other family member interested in nature is misanthropic Granddaddy. With his help, Calpurnia starts cataloging her observations and formulating hypotheses--culminating in the discovery of a new plant species. Without anachronism, Kelly has created a spirited young woman who's refreshingly ahead of her time. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #5
Eleven-year-old Calpurnia is the middle child (and only girl) of seven siblings. It's summertime, 1889, in Fentress, Texas, and hot enough to fry an egg outside: the local newspaper reports that "the temperature was 106 degrees in the middle of the street." After Callie's letter to the editor is published ("It seemed to me that the temperature in the shade would be a lot more useful to the citizens of our town"), her favorite brother encourages her to spend the summer writing down her scientific observations. Trouble is, there's only one other family member with any interest in science, not to mention a copy of Charles Darwin's new and controversial book, The Origin of Species: gruff, intimidating, misanthropic Granddaddy. After some initial icebreaking, the two bond over insatiable curiosity about the natural world, culminating in their thrilling discovery of a new plant species. Along the way, Callie learns to carefully catalog her observations, noting questions ("Why don't caterpillars have eyelids?"; "When does the young human organism get a grasp of time?") and formulating hypotheses. She also tries to carve a place for herself as a scientist amidst very different expectations for her future. Calpurnia's perseverance and confidence gained working side-by-side with her grandfather are evidence that she's more than capable of meeting her goals. Kelly, without anachronism, has created a memorable, warm, spirited young woman who's refreshingly ahead of her time. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2009 April #1
"Mother was awakening to the sorry facts: My biscuits were like stones, my samplers askew, my seams like rickrack." The year is 1899, the place Texas and the problem is 11-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate, who is supposed to want to cook, sew and attract future beaux, not play in the dirt, examine insects and, perhaps most suspect of all, read Darwin's controversial The Origin of Species, the source of the novel's chapter introductions. A natural-born scientist, she alone among her six brothers has discovered the rare specimen under her own roof--a funny-smelling, rather antisocial grandfather who preoccupies himself with classifying flora and fauna...when he's not fermenting pecans for whiskey. Their budding friendship is thoughtfully and engagingly portrayed, as is the unfolding of the natural world's wonders under Calpurnia's ever-inquisitive gaze. Calpurnia is not a boilerplate folksy Southern heroine who spouts wise-beyond-her-years maxims that seem destined for needlepoint--her character is authentically childlike and complex, her struggles believable. Readers will finish this witty, deftly crafted debut novel rooting for "Callie Vee" and wishing they knew what kind of adult she would become. (Historical fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Media Connection Reviews 2009 October
Calpurnia is a very curious young girl whose passion is to discover new things. In the summer of 1899, Calpurnia sets off to discover life in the woods behind her house. To assist her, Callie refers to a book by Charles Darwin given to her by her grandfather. Getting to know her mysterious grandfather is hard, and Callie tries to find ways to relate to him as he spends his days conducting experiments and searching for specimens. They soon form a very special relationship, hunting and collecting samples in the woods behind their home. When they find a possible new species, Callie and her grandfather send pictures to the Smithsonian. The excitement is contagious as they wait to hear about their discovery. Throughout this story are the obvious signs of the time and the small-town Texas setting, which will intrigue young readers. I especially like the manner in which the characters speak to one another. The references to the inventions that come about add charm to the story. Recommended. Tricia Grady, Media Specialist, Franklin (Indiana) Community Middle School Â¬ 2009 Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 May #1
Life at the turn of the century is not easy for a girl who loves books and science. Kelly's first novel presents spirited heroine Calpurnia (Callie) Virginia Tate, a middle child with six brothers, growing up in the isolation of Fentress, Tex., in 1899. To her family's dismay, Callie is stubborn, independent and not interested in darning socks or perfecting her baking skills like a lady. "I would live my life in a tower of books," she thinks to herself. She spends most of her time with Harry, "the one brother who could deny me nothing," slowly befriending her Granddaddy, a mysterious naturalist who studies everything from pecan distillation to microscopic river bugs. Together they dream up experiments and seek answers to backyard phenomena, discovering something new about the invisible world each day. Callie follows her passion for knowledge, coming to realize her family "had their own lives. And now I have mine." Callie's transformation into an adult and her unexpected bravery make for an exciting and enjoyable read. Kelly's rich images and setting, believable relationships and a touch of magic take this story far. Ages 10-up. (May)[Page 51]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8--A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of The Origin of Species and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie's mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather's influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie's confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother's despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie's heartache over receiving The Science of Housewifery as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie's future, but there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel.--Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA[Page 110]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.