The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly

Hardcover, 2009

Call number

JF KEL

Publication

Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) (2009), Edition: 1, 352 pages

Description

In central Texas in 1899, eleven-year-old Callie Vee Tate is instructed to be a lady by her mother, learns about love from the older three of her six brothers, and studies the natural world with her grandfather, the latter of which leads to an important discovery.

Media reviews

In her debut novel, Jacqueline Kelly brings to vivid life a boisterous small-town family at the dawn of a new century. Readers will want to crank up the A.C. before cracking the cover, though. That first chapter packs a lot of summer heat.
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Children's Literature
Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children's Literature) Calpurnia is an active, inquisitive eleven-year-old girl, living in a small Texas town in 1899. She takes no interest in cooking or sewing and is, in fact, inept in all household duties. Calpurnia is the only girl in a family of seven children, so
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her mother keeps trying to domesticate her, but Calpurnia consistently resists. She has developed a special relationship with her eccentric grandfather, a scientist and naturalist. They explore the nearby river and woods and are excited about the possibility of having discovered a new plant. Granddaddy loans her his copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and a quotation from the book appears at the beginning of each chapter. Calpurnia reads this book and others, records her findings and questions in a journal, and aspires to become a scientist. Other than her grandfather, her family does not support her in this quest. Her future is left uncertain, but readers will be rooting for her to achieve her goal. This book presents an engaging piece of historical-fiction depicting the roles and expectations for women at the turn of the twentieth century. 2009, Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan, $16.99. Ages 9 to 12.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Jacqueline Kelly's first book is something special. It reads like she took Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Origin of Species and Little House on the Prairie and distilled from them an entirely original tale of a twelve year old girl, growing up in the small town of Fentress, Texas
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in 1899. She's the only daughter of a well-to-do cotton farmer with six sons, and she's possessed of a relentless curiosity about the natural world.

Things change for Callie when she scandalizes the local librarian by asking to check out Charles Darwin's controversial book. Callie is equally scandalized by the librarian's reaction and the event comes to the ears of her grandfather, a stand-offish old man who both loans her his copy of the book and takes her under his wing to teach her about natural history.

It's hard to explain why this book is so very good. Callie's exploding interest in the natural world and warm relationship with her grandfather (who tells her a wonderful story about a Civil War battle and a bat) is balanced by her mother's determination to teach Callie what she will need to know to be a housewife when the time comes and by the antics and adventures of her six brothers, who are allowed a great deal more freedom than Callie enjoys.

I read this book with my ten-year-old daughter, who strongly related to Calpurnia and her love of science and nature, and with my seven-year-old son, who pretended not to care, but who, alone of all of us, was able to keep track of the differences between Callie's many brothers. I hope that the next book we read together is half as good as this one.
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LibraryThing member stephxsu
It is the year 1899. In sun-roasted rural Texas, 11-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate—better known as Callie Vee—attempts to navigate life with six brothers, a gentile mother, and an enigmatic grandfather who encourages her interest in science, even though the turn of the nineteenth century is
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no time for a young girl to be thinking about a “man’s occupation.”

While her mother tries valiantly to domesticate her, Calpurnia wants nothing more than to be outside, making naturalistic observations in her journal, catching plant and insect specimens, and helping her grandfather in his experiments. As she watches her older brothers grow up and fall in love, and helps her grandfather discover what could possibly be a new plant species, Callie tries to carve out a place for herself in the heavily masculine world.

Ever reread your beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder boxed set, then wonder where to go from there? Look no further than Jacqueline Kelly’s stunning debut novel, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, which will be sure to win the hearts of any reader, whatever their age may be. In turn rip-roaringly funny and poignant, Callie Vee’s story of her struggles and triumph over her oppressors will be sure to stay with your for many weeks.

Calpurnia narrates from an almost distant time, as if she were an older woman reflecting on her preteen days. While I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, the effect is that Calpurnia’s story will more easily attract older readers—if they aren’t already charmed by Callie Vee’s refreshingly innocent yet determined demeanor. She is the kind of middle-grade protagonist that can charm the pants off of everyone, an ahead-of-her-times young girl without the preaching or drama.

Not to be outdone, Jacqueline Kelly’s writing is just as impressive and genuine. She unwinds the characters’ stories with all the skill, ingenuity, and humor of a far more established character writer. We readers are left chuckling at the Tate family’s escapades and sighing with happiness when things go right.

THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE is definitely a 2009 debut that should not be missed. This is a book that will go far; I can only hope that my review will be just one more tiny little paddle pushing it in your, and the award givers’, direction.
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LibraryThing member cmbohn
Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But
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Calpurnia's mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She's forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn't so bad, at least when it's a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what's the rush? She's only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone - and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year's Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma's air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It's a choice between her mother's way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Calpurnia Tate is an eleven-year-old girl in love with the natural world and out of sync with the expectations of her traditional Southern mother. Calpurnia discovers that her grandfather, whom she barely knows, shares her love of science, and he begins to mentor her as she explores Mr. Darwin's
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scandalous book and makes her own increasingly insightful observations of the natural world. At the same time as she wants to spend more time with her grandfather and their experiments, her mother decides it is time for Calpurnia to begin learning to be a lady. As needlework, cooking, and piano recitals prepare Calpurnia for one path in life, she begins to dream of another. How far can a girl's dreams be carried in Texas at the turn of the century?

In the vein of The Penderwicks, this book is lively and features a brave, intelligent girl who makes a strong heroine and role model. Although the quotes from The Origin of the Species that begin each chapter may be difficult for a younger reader, the story itself is compelling simple and old-fashioned in its lack of modern tween angst. My only caution is that the passage where her grandfather recounts his time in the Civil War was a bit abruptly violent.

Highly recommended for young girls and their families.
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LibraryThing member YouthGPL
Susan says: Callie Tate is the only daughter among 6 brothers in turn of the century Texas. The story begins in the summer, when there is no escaping the Texas heat. Callie has started observing everything around her, and recording it in her notebook. When her grandfather, who is a home-grown sort
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of scientist, takes notice of her, he takes her under his wing and begins to train her in science. Callie loves this, and one of the central struggles of this book is her struggle to not be what everyone expects of her - a wife and mother. She wants to go to university and study. This really isn't resolved in this book, but I'm not sure it has to be - the reader is well aware of Callie and what she may and may not do. I did love Callie's relationship with all of her family, but especially her grandfather. I think this book is layered, intricate as the cut piece decorating the cover, and well done. I am not sure if it is more for older tweens or teens, but I think it will be interesting to see how it is regarded in the award season. It's definitely worthy of an award.
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LibraryThing member flemmily
Calpurnia Virginia Tate has six brothers; she is the middle child and only girl. And her peculiarities don't stop there. Although other girls of eleven in 1899 Fentress, Texas are interested in playing piano and the Science of Housewifery, Callie Vee is interested in the natural world. The
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Evolution of Calpurnia Tate follows Callie's progress as a scientist, and her relationships with her loving but befuddled family, and her increasing bond with her grandfather, a reclusive fellow naturalist.
Nothing much happens in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. The book meanders like a lazy river, and Callie's life is the passing scenery. Callie is a wonderful character, with an inquisitive and devious mind. I loved the idea that she cut her hair at the rate of one inch a week so no one would notice. I'm also partial to this time period, and to the idea of the frontier (or semi-frontier) in literature. The relationship between Callie and her grandfather is a heartwarming match between two kindred souls at the opposite ends of life. Read this book for the themes, characters, and overall tone, rather than for the plot.
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LibraryThing member skstiles612
In the story, Calpurnia is torn between her love of Science and all her grandfather can teacher her and the world her mother thinks is appropriate for females. You know the one, cooking, cleaning, doing needlework. Calpurnia dutifully does her mother’s bidding as is appropriate. She is torn
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between what is expected of her and what her true passion is. Her family is wealthy and therefore has an image to uphold. One thing that I had a problem with is that Calpurnia was too adult like. Very few of my students could relate to this book in any way. Most of them would consider it dry and too long. Most of my students live at or below the poverty level.
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LibraryThing member DrApple
Calpurnia Tate is coming of age with the coming of the 20th century. She is struggling to determine whether she can break the bonds of traditional women's roles and become a scientist. This is a funny and touching story.
LibraryThing member btwnthecovers
Really good, recommended for 5th gr and up.
LibraryThing member oapostrophe
Our heroine lives in Texas 1899. She has brothers, and they get to do all the fun stuff. This was a great, fun read for me. There is something charmingly old fashioned here. Calpurnia's discovery of her grandpas' nature studies, and how she takes to it, and he to her is very endearing. How it gives
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her strength to consider following her dreams should be inspiring to young readers.
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LibraryThing member suzanne5002
Calpurnia is the only girl of 6 children. She is also living in 1899 waiting for the turn of the century.
Her grandfather seeks her out & makes her a partner of his scientific endeavors. He's always experimenting & showing her that she needs to have a notebook into which she can record their
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comments. He tried to make pecan wine and that didn't turn out so well. In fact, the grandfather commented that it tasted like cat piss. Can we say...EEwww??
Calpurnia is almost 12 & her mother thinks that she needs to 'come out into society. She doesn want to do this. She doesn't know why she has to do this. Her mother also wants handiwork,i.e.,knit,embroider,tattering. She eventually does win 3rd prize in the county fair for her tattering. She also needs to learn how to cook and other housewife activities. Does she enjoy doing these? No way. She'd rather be doing scientific experiments. She wants to go to university.
This is a great coming of age book. I would give it 4 1/2 stars but it didn't give me an option to do that. I couldn't give it 5 since it was rather boring for the first 15-20 ppgs.(less)
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LibraryThing member jb03bps
Grandfather interests Calpurnia in the natural world. This is a Women's Lib book.
LibraryThing member PotomacLibrary
Despite her mother's efforts to fashion her into a proper young lady skilled in sewing and cooking, 12-year old Calpurnia Tate discovers her true passion for science when her grandfather introduces her to nature and the concept of evolution. Juvenile fiction for 4-6th graders. lh 10/31/09
LibraryThing member wagnoel
Historical fiction in an otherwise forgotten time period (1899). 11 turning 12 year old Calpurnia discovers her scientist within through the tutelage of her endearing, reclusive, scientist grandfather, only to struggle against the pressures of the time period to become a scientist of housewifery
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(?). The lack of a significant plot slows the story a bit--counterbalanced by the poignant tale of a courageous young woman swimming upstream make for most satisfying tale for a fifth, sixth, or seventh grade girl.
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LibraryThing member delphica
1899, Texas, Calpurnia Tate is the only girl in a large family of boys. Another member of the family is her paternal grandfather; at the start of the story he is a little distant from the children and spends all of his time puttering around with various experiments - some of which involve his
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distillery, which I thought was comic but somewhere someone is having fits at the thought of children reading about this, and others are more focused on the exploration of the natural environment. This is the common ground that he and Calpurnia share, as she is also avidly interested in the wealth of creatures that co-inhabit the Tate family farm. Competing with Calpurnia's passion for science is her mother's determination to prepare her to be a future home-maker.

Of course in terms of time period, it reminds me pleasantly of Caddie Woodlawn and there are also a few Betsy-Tacy moments, like when the first auto arrives in their little town. Oh, and the phone. That was one of my favorite incidents in the book, when the telephone comes and a teenage girl is engaged as the telephone operator much to the envy of Calpurnia and her friends.

I liked that Calpurnia started thinking hard about her future, and that the book left it to the reader to weigh how difficult or not it would be for a girl in her situation to pursue higher education. The other aspect that I found impressive was that the book hit a really nice balance on the science - it's taken very seriously but still presented in a straight-forward way that doesn't seem intimidating. Also, the woodcut design of the cover is darling.

Weirdly, the one thing that jumped out at me was a reference to Helen Keller, which seemed so jarring even though I didn't have any strong opinion on when The Story of My Life was published (turns out it was 1903). So was Helen Keller in the news prior to that, or her admission to Radcliffe in 1900? My friend Wendy informs me that her research shows Helen Keller was at least somewhat known at that time, but we both agree that the comment has a weird tone to it.

Grade: B+
Recommended: I liked the Texas rural setting, overall it's a very solid addition to the genre of girls' American experiences.
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LibraryThing member elizabethwallmacht
Subjects/Content Studies/AASL Standards:
Turn of the Century Life, Female Roles in the 1900's, Strong Female, Texas, Family Relationships, Evolution, Science.

2.1.1 Continue an inquiry-
based research process
by applying critical-
thinking skills (analysis,
synthesis, evaluation,
organization)
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to
information and
knowledge in order
to construct new
understandings, draw
conclusions, and create
new knowledge
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LibraryThing member prkcs
In central Texas in 1899, eleven-year-old Callie Vee Tate is instructed to be a lady by her mother, learns about love from the older three of her six brothers, and studies the natural world with her grandfather, the latter of which leads to an important discovery.
LibraryThing member 59Square
Callie Tate is the only daughter among 6 brothers in turn of the century Texas. The story begins in the summer, when there is no escaping the Texas heat. Callie has started observing everything around her, and recording it in her notebook. When her grandfather, who is a home-grown sort of
Show More
scientist, takes notice of her, he takes her under his wing and begins to train her in science. Callie loves this, and one of the central struggles of this book is her struggle to not be what everyone expects of her - a wife and mother. She wants to go to university and study. This really isn't resolved in this book, but I'm not sure it has to be - the reader is well aware of Callie and what she may and may not do. I did love Callie's relationship with all of her family, but especially her grandfather. I think this book is layered, intricate as the cut piece decorating the cover, and well done. I am not sure if it is more for older tweens or teens, but I think it will be interesting to see how it is regarded in the award season. It's definitely worthy of an award.
Show Less
LibraryThing member krau0098
I will be honest I picked up this book because I loved the cover, then I read the premise and it sounded interesting. I am so glad I read this book, it was an awesome and wonderful read.

Calpurnia is an eleven year old girl who lives in south at the turn of the 19th century. This book takes place in
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the summer of 1899; just as wonderful things like Coca-cola, telephones, and cars are being introduced to the region. Calpurnia (usually called Callie) is struggling through a long hot summer as the only girl in the family (she has six brothers). Then one day she wonders why the green grasshoppers and the yellow ones are different. She decides to ask her somewhat intimidating grandfather. Her grandfather opens up a whole new world to her. He used to be a naturalist for National Geographic and now he is teaching Callie all about the science behind nature, how to be a good scientist, and how to be a naturalist. Callie loves spending time learning about how to be a good scientist, unfortunately as the only daughter in the family, domestic issues rear their ugly head. Callie is expected to learn things like sewing, cooking, and tatting. She struggles with her parents expectations of her as a daughter even as she gets deeper and deeper into the science of what it means to be a naturalist.

I loved this book. The book is written in a wonderful way and has a great sense of humor about things. All of the characters in the book are well developed; and Kelly writes in such a way that you are really brought into the South during that hot summer. There are little things added in that keep the story engaging and give it some urgency; so it ends up being very hard to put down and quite the page turner.

Calpurnia is an intriguing character. She is smart and she is fair in how she judges things (although sometimes it is hard to be fair). Even as she hates learning domestic chores she does grudgingly recognize the value in learning them. She struggles with trying to figure out how she can fit science into her parents' idea of what a girl should be. This insight and thoughtfulness makes for a wonderful character. At one point she recognizes the futility of her mother's work as she discusses how her poor mother labors over house, cloths and food and then has nothing to show for it when it all needs to be done again the next day.

Callie also has a wonderful sense of humor; at one point wondering why she can't get a wife of her own to do all of these horrible chores. Much of the second half of this book has Callie struggling with gender roles. She sees the necessity of them, but she can't fathom why her brothers can't do domestic work so she can have more time for science. It is people like Callie, that made it so women like myself can make a good career out of science without causing too much trouble in this day and age.

Kelly does a wonderful job of showing life in the south as it was at that time. I loved watching the characters experience phones, cars, and Coca-cola for the very first time. The whole book was just a pleasure to read as you witness Callie's brothers' antics as well as her own.

Kelly also did an excellent job of presenting scientific theory in a wonderful and interesting way. Kelly really captures the wonder of discovery and the things that drive scientists to do what they do. This book will make you re-examine the world around you and take new wonder in everything you see. As a scientist myself, this book really made me remember why I do what I do.

I really loved this book. Not only was it a great portrait of that late 1800's, but Calpurnia really captured my heart both as a girl and as a scientist. I was a little disappointed that we didn't find out what Calpurnia's future was going to be. But, that wasn't the point of the story and the story ended as it should have; it ended realistically. Still, I can't help but wish I could read more about Calpurnia in a future book.

This is definitely a keeper. A great book for all ages, genders, and interests. I will definitely be keeping tabs on Jacqueline Kelly to see what wonderful thing she writes next.
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LibraryThing member wsquared
Jacqueline Kelly's tale of 12-year-old Calpurnia Tate, a precocious tomboy fascinated with the natural world, transports the reader to rural Texas in 1899. The narration truly shows, not tells, the little details of daily life for Calpurnia and her large family. For the modern reader, her dreams of
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becoming a scientist aren't far-fetched, so it's heartbreaking to see her come to the realization that her dreams aren't very realistic in that day and age. Since the book comprises a year, the story is broken down into vignettes. It's not very fast-paced, so some younger or reluctant readers might get bored, but it will likely appeal to strong readers, especially those who enjoy historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member 4sarad
This is an odd book and definitely not for everyone. There's really no action to speak of, but I did enjoy experiencing Calpurnia's excitement about science and new inventions and the changing world. I got a good look at what it was like to be a girl in 1899 and found it really interesting. The
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book didn't have a BAD ending, really, but it was definitely not an ending that left you with a lot of closure. You are left to imagine what happens to Calpurnia on your own. I really like this book, but feel like it was just too.... subtle(?) for middle/high school readers. I think most of them will find it boring.
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LibraryThing member taramatchi
This was such a great story about a young girl in 1899 who wanted to be more than just a wife and mother. Calpurnia was an easy character to empathize with. Calpurnia had the most wonderful curious nature and I loved reading about her dreams and thoughts, although the whole cast of characters were
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equally charming. The story was not action packed, but I loved sitting down to read more about this family and their adventures in firefly catching, turkey raising, as well as reading about their wonders of the newest machines and creations.
One of the best relationships was the bond that Calpurnia and her granddaddy had. He opened her eyes to science and the world around her and truly allowed and encouraged her to be who she was.
Calpurnia had the most wonderful curious nature and I loved reading about her dreams and thoughts.
I would recommend this to any teen girl as well as to any mothers.
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LibraryThing member sammimag
An absolutely delightful book about a young girl growing up at the turn of the century. Calpurnia would like to be a scientist and learns a lot about the natural world from her grandfather a self educated naturalist. My heart aches for her and her plight as the story unfolds because she might not
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get what she wants. I feel thankful I grew up much later in the 20th century. I chose to stay at home. Many women did not get that choice.
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LibraryThing member ChelseaRose
Callie spends the summer trying to avoid the domestic choirs her mother wants to teach her. She spends the days with her Grandfather, collecting specimens and learning to be a scientist. She wards off her brothers from her best friend, and tries to help everyone get along somehow. She decides that
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she doesn't want to follow the traditional path of women of the day, marrying and having children. She grapples with her parents disapproval of her ideas of university, but is so strong and determined she leaves the reader sure that she will accomplish her goals.
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LibraryThing member ChristianR
When I first tried reading this book I quickly put it down because it didn't seem like it worked to me. It was a little too precious. After hearing many people rave about it I picked it up again and this time enjoyed it, though I still didn't think it worked as well as others (in particular the
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Penderwick books by Mary Birdsall). The characters were likeable, though a little one-dimensional. It is always fascinating to read about life back at the turn of the century. Calpurnia is a girl from a fairly well off family, so the expectations of how she will occupy herself do seem stifling. I think many girls will be inspired by Calpurnia's interests.
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Awards

Nebraska Golden Sower Award (Nominee — 2012)
Audie Award (Finalist — 2011)
Utah Beehive Book Award (Nominee — Children's Fiction — 2011)
William Allen White Children's Book Award (Nominee — Grades 6-8 — 2011-2012)
Newbery Medal (Honor Book — 2010)
Oregon Reader's Choice Award (Nominee — 2012)
Arkansas Teen Book Award (Nominee — 2011)
Iowa Children's Choice Award (Nominee — 2013)
Josette Frank Award (Winner — 2010)
Flicker Tale Award (Nominee — Juvenile Books — 2013)
Volunteer State Book Award (Nominee — Young Adult — 2012)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 2010)
The Best Children's Books of the Year (Nine to Twelve — 2010)

Pages

352

ISBN

0805088415 / 9780805088410
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