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Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 9 and up

"One year. Not two. One. Which meant I would be allowed exactly half the education of Travis. The injustice of it overwhelmed me. Then what popped into my head was the question that - the moment it came to me - I realized I'd been waiting to ask my whole life. I said, "How is that fair?" Father and Mother stared at me as if I had sprouted another head. "Indeed," murmured Grandaddy ... "

How wonderful to spend time with Calpurnia Virginia Tate once again! Picking up this book and not putting it down until I had read it start to finish was a joy. Calpurnia is one of my favorite fictional characters - a girl with a love of science, family, critters, and learning.

Callie, now age 13, and her grandfather continue their scientific studies together. Whenever she has a question about the discoveries she is making, she heads straight to the library where her grandfather is most often found. Granddaddy encourages her learning, giving her tasks to help her answer her many questions on her own. She tracks her observations and questions in a Scientific Notebook:

"Saturday, September 8, 1900. Vy cloudy, SW winds. Strange bird on lawn, looks like this:"

Accompanying the note is a sketch of the bird she sees. Before going inside, she notes that her barometer shows the air pressure has dropped dramatically. In the library she finds a bird that matches her sketch. She shows it to her Grandfather. It sets him to thinking seriously, recognizing that a terrible storm is coming. His warning does not help those living in Galveston, where thousands die. Among the survivors is Aggie, Callie's cousin, who comes to live with Callie and her family while her parents try to salvage their life in Galveston.

We also meet the other members of the Tate family, and come to know Callie's brother Travis well. He loves animals with a passion, and is always bringing home strays. Knowing how he loves them, Callie does her best to help when he needs assistance. It often gets the two in trouble. It also leads to their work with a local vet, and a growing understanding that Callie has a natural proclivity for animal husbandry. Luckily, her mother knows little about these escapades.

There is so much science explored in the adventures that are a part of Callie's everyday life. She is interested in Charles Darwin and his writings, in dissection, in the care of animals, in the stars, and in being outdoors. At the same time, she is acutely aware of the inequity in life when you are a girl in the early twentieth century. The opportunities for her six brothers are very different than they are for a young girl. She is expected to learn skills that will make her a good wife and mother; education is not considered an option. Her courage to speak out, and her insistence that she be treated fairly make her an admirable character, while also being fallible and human. She deserves the opportunity to forge her own path in life. I am sure that she will.

In the meantime, before she grows up too much, I hope to meet her again. I am content to wait six years again just to spend more time with her.  Please!!!

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