The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly contains the following passage that accurately depicts adolescent disappointment upon receipt of a horrible gift:

"Great fatigue washed over me like a tidal wave, drowning my anger. I was too tired to fight anymore. I did the hardest thing I'd ever done in my life. I reached down into the depths of my being, and I dredged up the beginnings of a watery smile. I whispered, 'Thank you.' Just two words. Just two artificial words, coming from my own hypocritical mouth. Tears came to my eyes. I felt like I was disintegrating." (p. 305)

Calpurnia, or Callie Vee, is the plucky heroine of this Newbery honor book whose daily life and adventures with her scientifically minded Grandfather form the basis of this episodic narrative.

Callie is on the cusp of adolescence, 12 years old in 1899, watching a new century emerge. She (spoilers!) wants to be a scientist, but isn't sure women can do this, until her Grandfather introduces her to the likes of Marie Curie. Still, the book ends on a realistically ambiguous note... will Callie's mother succeed in converting her to domestic bliss, will Callie concede that she wants a family, i.e. children? Though the author is excellent at problematizing that word "family," as one of the girls asks "doesn't everyone have a family?" Will Callie go to the university? The book ends on a note of triumph: Callie and her Grandfather do succeed in discovering a new species, named after their family.

All in all, it's a satisfying read, and one that will promote the teaching of evolution and work well as a classroom read-aloud. But, basically, it's a solidly fun book to read.

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