Friday, September 18, 2015

511 (2015 #68). The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly,
read by Natalie Ross

This is a sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly's 2010 Newbery Honor Book, but you don't need to have read it in order to enjoy this one.

It takes up right where the previous book left off - the beginning of the year 1900, in the Tate home in Fentress, Texas.  Twelve-year-old Calpurnia Virginia ("Callie Vee") Tate, the middle child among six brothers, is thrilled to find it snowing - a rarity in Central Texas in the winter.

This book continues the Darwinian theme with epigraphs for each chapter from Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.  Fitting, too, because this time, Callie's scientific explorations - mostly conducted with her grandfather - focus on animals instead of plants, as well as the weather and stars.

Callie's younger brother Travis (all but the oldest brother are named for various early Texas heroes) plays a big part in this book, with his quest to find the ideal pet.  He adopts a series of inappropriate ones - an armadillo, a blue jay, a raccoon - and finally a half-coyote dog he names Scruffy. Callie's involved in (trying to) help him keep them hidden from their parents, and in caring for them when they are ultimately discovered.

In an interview, Kelly said she'd wanted to write a sequel,  "but our big old house in Fentress, Texas, which served as the inspiration for so much of the first book, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 2010.  It was a horrible experience and it took me some time to get over it."  She also said she "drew a lot of inspiration from our dog Laika, a stray living near the San Marcos River, who we are pretty sure is half-Chow and half-coyote." Laika is the inspiration for Scruffy.

Kelly, who lived for a while in Galveston, works the 1900 hurricane that devastated that city into the story. Callie sees a coastal gull that's flown far inland, and her grandfather has her build a homemade barometer and make observations.  They predict the big storm and try to warn their family in Galveston.  After the storm, Callie's father and oldest brother go to help, and return with Callie's older cousin Agatha who comes to live with the Tates for a while - getting the bed in Callie's room while our heroine sleeps on the floor - while her family home is being rebuilt.  They are accompanied by a veterinarian who sets up practice in Fentress.  Callie assists him with some of his patients, and is frustrated by 1900s customs that would seem to prevent her from becoming a veterinarian herself.

The gentle reminders that girls didn't have the kinds of opportunities in the early 1900s that they do today, plus Callie's interest in science, encouraged by her grandfather (she even dissects a worm and a frog, and builds astrolabe to learn about latitude and longitude), make this book especially appropriate for girls age 11 and up, as well as "all nature lovers, and all curious kids, and all strong readers," according to Kelly.

Once again, the beautiful silhouette on the cover was designed by the talented Beth White.  And native Texan Natalie Ross also reads this audiobook, with her soft but musical Southern-accented voice, perfect for Callie, who tells her own tale.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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