Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The curious world of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

"I thought about it and realized that I, too was an explorer.  Hadn't I crossed the wide ocean to England with Mr Dickens? Hadn't I drifted down the great Mississippi with Huck? Didn't I travel in time and space every time I opened a book?"

I adored The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate so I waited a little while before beginning this second installment.  I was worried it might not be as good as the first.  There was no need to worry at all. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate is just as good as the first book.  You could actually read this one without reference to the first because Jacqueline Kelly includes just the right amount of recapping and back story but because I loved the first book I recommend you try to start from the beginning.

In some ways Calpurnia (Callie Vee) has a small life.  She has never traveled beyond the nearby town, she has not been to the ocean and she is expected to learn the ways of a lady.  Luckily Callie is a curious girl who sees so much potential and wonder in her world.  With the support of her very well read Grandfather, Callie is able to ask lots of questions and receive guidance in how to explore the answers.  Her grandfather has an extensive library which Callie is able to use and in this second installment she is also able to explore the wonderful book collection owned by a local veterinarian  Dr Pritzker.  We see Callie make an astrolabe, a barometer and begin a series of animal dissections beginning with a grasshopper then a frog.

Callie has learned to observe her world in a scientific way but sadly she is also living at a time when girls are not given any credit for their intellect.  Callie, for example, is given only $5 when her father returns from assisting with the Galveston Hurricane while her brothers are given $10.  Worse though, is the way her expectations of university study are totally crushed.

"I suddenly realized that the moment and the stage were mine.  ... 'Well, Calpurnia, we might be able to, uh, send you to college for a year. That should be long enough for you to  earn your teaching certificate, I should think.'  I couldn't believe what I was hearing. One year. Not two. .... the injustice of it overwhelmed me.  Then what popped into my head was the question that ... I'd be waiting to ask my whole life.  ... 'How is that fair?"

The year is 1900.  There is change in the air.  Callie discovers the wonders of the typewriter thanks to her older cousin who has come to stay with the family following the hurricane.  Travis is still obsessed by animals and so Callie is able to learn more about armadillos, a blue jay, a black-spotted newt and a dog named Scruffy that is half coyote.  Callie also opens her first bank account and in this scene her father redeems himself.

"Everything is fine, Father. ... I have come to open an account.' ... 'Why on earth do you need that?' I thought quickly.  'You're always telling us to save our money, so I thought this would be the best place to do it' ... 'it's an excellent idea, and you shall set a good example for them (the boys). Come, I'll introduce you to the president, and we'll get you started."

Callie deposits $7.58 - her life savings but there is a promise of more money to come.  She is now working for the vet and he his paying her to type is labels and accounts, she has her weekly allowance and some of the farmers give her small payments when she makes deliveries for Dr Pritzker.

Instead of giving up, Callie Vee comes up with a plan to prevail, teaching the readers that, no matter the circumstance, you can achieve more; try harder and let those nay-sayings fall on deaf ears.  Kinderlit

But not to worry….Callie, the witty and sincere narrator, is “smart as a tree full of owls” and won’t be denied her dreams of being a veterinarian or anything else she puts her mind to.   Kirkus

Kelly seeds the story with enough small, stinging incidents of gender discrimination that when eventually Callie stops weeping over “the hard fact of being a half citizen in my own home” and determines to find a way to fulfill her ambition, it’s both believable and cheer-worthy.   Horn Book

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