Confession time. As a kid, I despised History class. Social studies took a close second to math (which I still can't stand). But something interesting happened when I discovered genealogy. With the help of my mother and aunt, I traced my family tree and history came alive for me. I'd made a connection with the past.
Although I now have a soft spot for history, I don't often choose to read historical fiction. Not sure why. But every once in a while I stumble upon a book that sparks that amazement for the past again. Jacqueline Kelly's debut novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009, Henry Holt) is just such a find.
A 2009 Newbery Honor book, Calpurnia's story takes place in a small central Texas town in 1899. Callie is 11, sandwiched between six brothers in a well-to-do family. As the only daughter, it is expected that she will "come out" into society and make her family proud with her sewing, knitting, and cookery.
Callie wants nothing less.
After discovering she has a mutual love for nature and science with her grandfather, a former Civil War captain and naturalist, Callie receives an expanded education including Darwinian ideas not commonly taught in school. But this is a time when women couldn't even cast an official vote. Callie is disheartened by the expectation that she is to grow up into a wife and mother even if what she really wants to be is a scientist. And nobody seems to appreciate the significance of what Callie is learning from her grandfather, not even when they discover what might be an entirely new species of plant.
Written with rich, gorgeous detail and a warm, approachable tone, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a time machine intertwining science with history, and serves as a reminder about how lucky we are to live in the 21st century. It paints a picture of a gentle time when manners and culture were considered more proper than passion as the dawn of a new century ushered in great changes like automobiles, telephones and self-sufficient young ladies who were not just allowed but encouraged to follow their dreams.
For readers 3rd grade and up. Can't wait to see what Kelly tackles next. 5 bookmarks.