The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In 1899 in the middle of a modest town of Fentress, Texas the young Calpernia Tate is about to go on a journey of self-discovery. Turn of the century mores and expectations weigh heavy on her--according to her mother's plan she is to come out this year and she is to study the science of housewifery. The same plan for most adolescent girls of the age.
Calpernia wanted to study for sure...even her New Year's resolution in 1898 was to master darning and spinning. Nothing unusual there.
However, none had planned that she and her grandfather would change those plans.
He shows her that she can be anything she wants to be. She can shape her life in any way she pleased. Encouragement. Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpernia Tate is YA novel built around the beauty of encouragement. Encourage a young person and he/she might just change the world.
Granddaddy, a true old world Southern gentleman and Civil War captain, lets Calpernia into his world: science, discovery, questioning, observation, nature, and theory. He shares his knowledge with her, and he shares his time with her...which takes away from her predetermined destination of living the life of a housewife. And her mother observes this...and intervenes.
Calpernia is in the crucible of possibility and probability. She probably will not be afforded the opportunity to go to school, to study, to pursue her passion. She possibly could...with encouragement.
For as well written as the narrator Calpernia Tate is, the real star of the book is the grandfather. Even though he is the oldest in the novel, he is the symbol of the future...he is the symbol of progress and change. He wants to experience driving in an automobile and he encourages his granddaughter to read and explore and grow with the change which is coming (which the rest cannot see). I particularly appreciated the fact that the grandfather spoke to Calpernia both as a child but also as one who deserved attention and respect. He wasn't dictating anything to her, he was allowing himself to be a vessel in which she could begin, as the title suggests, evolving. In an early bonding moment, Granddaddy offers Calpernia his copy of Darwin's The Origin of Species. He knows the text is a bit beyond her ability, but he hands it to her to explore and never lets on that it could be beyond her grasp. The very same book the town librarian refused to hand to Calpernia because of its content.
Granddaddy opened the doors which the rest of Calpernia's society kept closed to most females.
This Newberry Honor Book is a terrific piece of YA historical fiction. On the surface, you get an entertaining relationship between Calpernia and his grandfather--I laughed aloud at his actions several times; yet, you also benefit from the very obvious and welcome message of the power of encourage...and what if.
Highly recommended for your middle school bookshelf.
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