On Monday the 6th Grade Book Group and I discussed The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, and we all agreed that we like and appreciate the book. It’s not a typical piece of juvenile fiction, since the action is internal rather than external, and there isn’t any huge drama. And, of course, it’s historical fiction, which is a nice change of pace for me (and, I think, for the kids) from the usual fantasy fare.
My favorite part of the book is that Kelly addresses the relationship between Calpurnia and her somewhat crotchety grandfather with perception and gentleness. Their relationship truly evolves, as the title suggests, and feels genuine. No one establishes a strong bond overnight in real life, and I love that Calpurnia and her grandfather take their time getting to know each other.
The kids in the book group liked the scientific aspect of the story, and enjoyed Calpurnia’s intellectual curiosity and drive to know more. And we also talked about the role of women in Texas in 1899 and 1900 (the time of the story), and how hard it would be to be a girl like Calpurnia: a girl who wants to be a scientist and not a “lady.”
Towards the end of the group meeting, we talked about the Newbery Honor that this book won. This particular group has now read When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (the 2010 Newbery Medal winner), Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (a 2010 Newbery Honor winner), and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which was a 2010 Newbery Honor winner. I asked the group, given that they had read three of the top-awarded books of the last year, which they would have chosen as the Newbery Medal winner if they had been on the committee. Their answer? Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, in a unanimous vote. Their second choice was Calpurnia Tate, and, while they gave props to When You Reach Me for creativity, they all agreed that they didn’t think it was the best book of the three. I completely agree with the kids here (and I swear that I didn’t influence their decision AT ALL!!).
At any rate, if you have not yet read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, you should. I’m purposefully not describing much of the story in this post because I don’t want to wreak the reading experience for you. Which means your assignment is to go read this book, now!