Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

This books has received numerous awards including a Newberry Honor designation and an International Reading Association Book Award. It is historical fiction that explores life as experienced by an eleven year-old girl living in a small Texas town in 1899. (I may be over-generous with the historical fiction designation.  This may be realistic fiction set in an historical period.  But, it also has very nice connections to the history of science, so I'll be calling it historical fiction.) She does not easily fit into the expectations for a pre-teen girl in this time period.  She is something of a "tom-boy" and interested much more in exploring nature than working on her embroidery or tatting. 

Miraculously, her grandfather shares a passion for science with her.  They discover this shared interest when Calpurnia is "forced" to consult with him in an attempt to discover the difference between two types of grasshoppers that are plaguing the countryside in an unusually hot summer.  Once consulted, Grandfather helps Calpurnia on her path to learning scientific method and the research habits of a scientist. 

Much of the book details the research projects that Calpurnia and her grandfather undertake in this year.  It is a well crafted book that takes a broad look at life at the turn of the 20th century through the eyes of a preteen who doesn't quite fit in the role that society would dictate for her.  The International Reading Association calls this "intermediate fiction" but I think it may be better for older readers.  I shared information about this book with a friend who loved it so much she is now seeking out "used" copies to send to family member.  She suggested that it is really an adult book.  I do think that some "intermediate readers" would find the weight of this book a bit daunting.  It is not as "action packed" as other popular intermediate books.  However, with good teacher scaffolding it could come alive for this age group.  I can easily see this as a shared reading in an interdisciplinary unit looking at US History, biology, scientific method, and women's rights.

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