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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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When reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, I would have thought Jacqueline Kelly was born and raised a Texas girl. It was shocking to me when I read she was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada. That is dramatically different from Texas (even though she did live here later on). Another interesting fact is that the author is a practicing physician. I read with confidence that Jacqueline Kelly knew what she was talking about when Calpurnia and her grandfather discovered an unknown specimen (a species of vetch).

Aren't we lucky we live in a time when our daughter's have a choice other than keeping house, sewing, cooking, make small talk about patterns and recipes and being a wife and mother with no room or choice for other interests. Imagine being an eleven year old girl at the turn of the century growing up in the time of corsets, and scratchy petticoats, having to stick your hand in the oven to see if it was hot! If you were a tom boy with six brothers life could present a unique dichotomy of problems and pleasures.

I felt for Callie's mother! Having six boys I'm sure she was hoping her only daughter would be an ally, a buddy, and someone to keep her company. I think I'd be hitting Lydia Pinkham's tonic every evening too!

Most of Calpurnia's friends don't give a second thought to having a family of their own someday. I thought it was sweet the way Callie's friends admired the switch board operator (who isn't married and gets paid her own money) and liked to pretend to play her.

It cracked me up to read about Callie's first experience making a pie. The youngest brother, sweet Jim Bowie (who made pets with the Thanksgiving turkeys) asked if he could learn how to make pies only to be told by their mother he'll have a wife that makes pies for him. Callie thought, "Was there any way I could have a wife, too?" Poor Callie hated domesticity with a passion. It took away precious time with her books, her grandfather, and their scientific experiments.

Callie's character will resonate with girls who feel left out or different. She says, "I had never classified myself with other girls. I was not of their species; I was different." Haven't we all felt this way at some time? As mothers we hope our children will somehow escape this stage. But I think it's inevitable.

I think Callie speaks for all female reader's imaginations when she says, "One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home."

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Photo: John Watson's Little Girl Sewing with Cat is how I imagine Calpurnia looking, deep in thought and always attracting animals to her. Poor Callie Vee hated sewing and practicing the piano. She would much rather be outside collecting specimens.

Despite her hate for domesticity, Callie was a hard worker and had plenty to do. I love that she convinced her dad to pay her a nickel to babysit. I love that she went to bed reading, was curious about and caring for animals, and I love that she adored her brothers and grandfather so much that she lived to please them.

The grandfather learns as much from his granddaughter as she does from him. He thoughtfully regards her as smart even though he might call her ignorant sometimes. Grandfather is a mysterious man. You never know what he's thinking. Callie's proud to be "his girl" and never wants to disappoint him. I also enjoyed grandfather's scientific experience with pecan liquor. I won't spill the beans, but it is very funny!

To my delight, this book had a lot of food! Birthday and holiday feasts of endless treats... Pecan pies in Texas in 1899, yes! Cool aspic served with ham and four layer dark chocolate birthday cakes, oysters...really? I'm not so sure. That seems a bit sophisticated for South Texas 1899. But I sure enjoyed reading about it!

This is a book for all ages. What fun it is to share a book with the ones you love.

If I had the pleasure of speaking with Jacqueline Kelly I would like to know:

Did you have scientific experiments like Callie? Were you interested in science at eleven, a self educated naturalist? Did you have a unique and special bond with your grandfather? As a physician, I imagine you are making science experiments daily. What advice would you give to young children about science fair projects? I liked that each chapter starts with a quote from Darwin. How old were you when you read Darwin? You seem to be a bit of a renaissance woman...medical school in Galveston and then attending the University Of Texas School Of Law, later writing! Did you ever feel your dreams were impossible or are you just like Callie Vee and strong willed and driven? Are you a foodie?

How about you? Is your daughter a Calpurnia or were you growing up? What kind of scientific experiments did you partake in when you were eleven?

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