The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

This summer I came across The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate (Jacqueline Kelly) on the “New Books” shelf in the children’s section. When I realized that it was Book 2, I re-shelved it and went in search of the first book: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. This read shares with us the story of Calpurnia Virginia Tate in the year of 1899. In the blistering heat of Texas, a little piece of nature changes Callie’s world.

One day while trying to survive the Texas heat, Callie notices yellow grasshoppers among the common green grasshoppers. She begins to wonder why there are yellow grasshoppers. A rare conversation with her reclusive and somewhat cranky grandfather inspires Callie to look deeper at the grasshoppers to answer her own question. This observance in nature leads Callie to a love of nature, discovery, and science. It also leads to a sweet relationship between Callie and her naturalist grandfather.

Life isn’t just about jotting observations down in a nature notebook or collecting specimens. And as Callie is maturing into a young lady, she finds herself struggling with what is expecting of her. Her mother is doing all she can to prepare Callie for life as a wife and mother.  This is a matter of struggle for Callie as she has no interest in these female pursuits of knitting, sewing, and cooking. The thought of such a life ahead of her is heavy on her mind.

Will her love of science and her expected future find a place together? A neat and tidy ending to that question is not fully answered in the end. While we see small plot lines finding closure, we are left unsure of what the future holds for Callie.

Overall, I enjoyed reading about Calpurnia. The relationship between Callie and her grandfather was a highlight for me. Portraying the value and wisdom of the older generations is a beautiful thing and an important one. It was lovely to see these two come to an understanding of each other and share experiences.

“We had been so close to missing each other, he and I. He had turned out to be the greatest gift of all.”

Callie’s relationship with her mother is strained? I’m not sure that is the right word. Mrs. Tate does not agree with Callie’s interest in science. She desires to see Callie embrace and excel in the feminine pursuits of the day. Callie sees her mother’s life as one of drudgery, hard work, and no joy. As a stay at home mom, I find it disappointing that Mrs. Tate’s life is seen so negatively. I have no issues with the tension between the two worlds as it represents the time period and the thought toward women’s role. However, do we really want to speak to young girls today and suggest that being a mom is unworthy? This is another example of an unfinished plot line. As I prepare to read the second book, I hope that this conflict finds closure in a way that doesn’t put such a negative shadow on the lowly housewife.

“But my mother’s life was a never-ending round of maintenance. Not one single thing did she ever achieve but that it had to be done all over again, one day or one week or one season later. Oh, the monotony.”

I enjoyed the nature aspect of this book. Having my children outdoors and observing God’s creation is an important part of learning more about Him. It was fun to see a young girl learning much about the natural world around her. But….there is clearly an evolutionary slant to this book. Each chapter begins with a quote from Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Origin of Species is also shared with Callie courtesy of Grandfather. The book just doesn’t deal with Callie’s evolving but it also supports that thought throughout. While I don’t agree with evolutionary thinking, this would not cause me to restrict my daughters’ reading of this book. It provides an excellent platform to jump into discussion on worldviews and such. We do love a good discussion.

“I don’t have that many days left,” he said as we sat together in the library. “Why would I want to spend them on matters of drainage and overdue accounts? I must husband my hours and spend every one of them wisely. I regret that I didn’t come to this realization until I reached fifty years of age. Calpurnia, you would do well to adopt such an attitude at an earlier age. Spend each of your allotted hours with care.”

Is this an action packed page turner? An emotionally gripping novel? I would say no. This is more of a rainy afternoon with a cozy blanket and a yummy snack kind of book. A story of a young girl, her family, and daily life with a bit of excitement and laughter here and there. This is definitely for a  reader who can enjoy a slowly weaved story.  Overall, I found this an enjoyable summer afternoon read. While my girls haven’t read it yet, I’m sure there are one or two of them that will enjoy visiting with Callie. I have The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate on request at the library. I’ll let you know how it goes.

“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.”

Afternoon Discovery

Despite high temperatures, this afternoon we were gifted the most lovely breeze. This breeze along with an abundance of shade trees provided an excellent opportunity to enjoy a bit of God’s creation.

While I have never been a fan of insects, my children do not share the aversion. I encourage their interest. From a safe distance. Ahem. Today we enjoyed watching a praying mantis and a cicada. There was also a bit of interest in collecting cicada shells.

Hummingbirds have been frequent visitors as well but we have missed catching a photo of these little guys.

Our nature studies have been pushed aside for several weeks. Slowing working our way back into a regular afternoon of enjoying His creation.

What aspects of nature are you enjoying this summer?


Rascal (Sterling North)

Rascal by Sterling North (1964 Newbery Honor Book) was one of my selections for the Newbery Through the Decades Challenge – 1960s. We are a family who loves a good “boy and his dog” story. Or in this case, a good “boy and his racoon” story.  I had a feeling that Rascal would be a treasured read aloud.

Sterling is a young boy living in Wisconsin during World War I. It is just Sterling and his father living at home. His mother has been deceased for several years, siblings are in various stages of life including his brother, Herschel, who is fighting in the war. With a love for animals and nature, Sterling has a habit of making wild animals his pets. So while in the woods one day with a friend, Sterling finds a baby racoon and brings him home.

June was the month! School was out, cherries were ripe, and all the boys and some of the girls went barefoot. Boys had many extra advantages such as swimming naked and wandering alone along the streams and rivers, casting for bass among the water lilies. Girls had to wear swimming suits and come in earlier from our evening games of prisoner’s base and run-sheep-run. I was very thankful that I was a boy.

While this book shares many humorous stories about Rascal, it is much more than that. We see a glimpse of a time when boys were expected to be in the great outdoors; enjoying nature, hunting, working, exploring, and building. We see a town that truly was a community despite the good and the bad. We see a bit of history from the eyes of a young boy.

Censorship made communication almost impossible in World War I, and Herschel’s letter merely sent his love and confirmed the fact that he was unwounded. I remember one sentence in particular because it was typical of his wry good humor:

“Send me some Paris garters, Sterling. They claim in their ads that ‘No metal can touch you.’ “

The fact that Herschel was still alive and unhurt, and that Rascal and I still had one afternoon before I must start building his cage, raised my spirits considerably. I made jelly sandwiches for the two of us, and we climbed the cleats I had nailed to the oak tree, taking with us our picnic lunch and a copy of Westward Ho.

I read this aloud in the evenings and my children all loved it. From Sam (3) to Bekah (16) everyone was ready to settle in at the end of the day to hear more. I asked my son, Caleb, 13, what he thought of this book. He said, “I really enjoy books where a boy is telling his story. You know, like the Ralph Moody books. Rascal was funny and enjoyable. I liked how at the end Sterling let Rascal choose where he wanted to be.”

“Do as you please, my little racoon. It’s your life,” I told him.

If you haven’t read Rascal, you are missing out on a treasure.