Posts Tagged ‘The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate’

Quick Book Recs for a Ten-Year-Old

December 1, 2012 @ 12:04 pm | Filed under: Books

Someone on Twitter was looking for suggestions. I rattled off a list…and then copied it to Facebook and thought of more…and I figured I’d throw the titles up here too, for easy access, though of course this is a mere sliver of what I’d put on my ideal Books for Ten-Year-Olds bookshelf. Later, when time permits, I’ll try to come back and add capsule reviews, but today is not that day.

(Um, it goes without saying I recommend my own The Prairie Thief for this age, yes? Because I’m totally saying it anyway. For boys and girls. Ahem.)

Turtle in Paradise by Jenni Holm
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (and sequel) by Barry Deutsch
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Jane of Lantern Hill (happy sigh) by L.M. Montgomery
the Betsy-Tacy books (obviously)
The Firelings by Carol Kendall
The Gammage Cup / The Whisper of Glocken by Carol Kendall
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman
The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
The Great Turkey Walk by Kathleen Karr
Rowan of Rin (and sequels) by Emily Rodda
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
• The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall—the first one is my favorite
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Bad Island by Doug TenNapel
Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge
• The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan
• The Warriors books by Erin Hunter—Rose’s longtime obsession!

Harold Underdown suggested Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, and I second that—my kids and I loved it (and the related Calamity Jack—both graphic novels); they love all Shannon’s books like CRAZY. Next to Betsy-Tacy and Percy Jackson, the Shannon Hale novels are the most frequently borrowed books by their friends. We basically have a Lovelace/Riordan/Hale lending library going here.

Obviously, I could go on and on here. (See the comments for more suggestions.) This truly is a just-off-the-top-of-my-head list. Also check out my master list of book recommendations!

From the Morning’s Reading: Hoppers

June 9, 2011 @ 1:17 pm | Filed under: Books, Nature Study, Read-Alouds

McBroom’s Ear by Sid Fleischman

“Pa!” Mary cried. “They didn’t even wait for my prize tomatoes to ripen. They ate them green!”

“Pa!” little Clarinda said. “What happened to your socks?”

I looked down. Glory be! Those infernal [grasshoppers] had eaten the socks right out of my shoes—green socks. All they left were the holes in the toes.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I next wrote in my Notebook that we had two very different kinds of grasshoppers that summer. We had the usual quick little emerald ones decorated all over with black speckles. And then there were huge bright yellow ones, twice as big, and torpid, so waxy and fat that they bowed down the grasses when they landed. I had never seen these before. I polled everyone in the house (except Grandfather) to find out where these odd yellow specimens had come from, but nobody could tell me. Not of them was the slightest bit interested.

As a last resort, I rounded up my courage and went out to my grandfather’s laboratory. I pushed back the burlap flap that served as a door and stood quaking on the threshold. He looked up in surprise from the counter where he was pouring a foul-looking brown liquid into various beakers and retorts. He didn’t invite me in. I stumbled through my grasshopper conundrum while he stared at me as if he was having trouble placing me.

“Oh,” he said mildly, I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have.”

Two grasshopper stories: not a coincidence. I started reading Calpurnia to Rose and Beanie today (with Rilla listening in and, after a bit, curled in my lap picking out words Scout Finch-fashion), and when it came time for me to read a story to Rilla, I went straight for McBroom. If I’d thought about it in time, I’d have hunted up Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices; there’s a grasshopper poem in there, I’m sure. In fact, I can picture a hopper on the cover. Maybe tomorrow. Today has rolled on to the next thing. Polly Pockets for those three girls, and the Shakespeare kids coming in a bit to work on costumes for our Twelfth Night performance.

Related post: Sciency fiction and nonfiction
More about McBroom: Hoppers
More about Calpurnia Tate: Our first encounter; Naturalists in literature

More book recommendations here.

“Sometimes I think p’raps I’m a bird”: Naturalists in Literature

March 7, 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Filed under: Books, Nature Study

“Charles could entertain himself for hours just by thinking, or by observing birds, or watching sticks and leaves float down a stream. He made notes as he watched the birds, writing down what they did, how they behaved. And like many young boys, he was a collector. He collected shells, seals, coins, and minerals. He studied them and organized them in kind—in the tradition of natural historians.”

—from Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman

This passage about the young Charles Darwin made me think at once of Callie Vee, the spunky young naturalist who won our hearts in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. And that got me thinking in turn about other literary naturalists we love. The impetuous, angry-eyed Dan comes to mind, Jo’s “firebrand” from Little Men. And of course there is Dickon from The Secret Garden: an unschooled naturalist to be sure, a student of nature by way of being a friend to every growing thing. Who else? I know I’m forgetting some favorites.

Sam from My Side of the Mountain? He’s more a survivalist than a naturalist, though certainly a student of nature. Anne Shirley’s beloved teacher, Miss Stacy, gets her pupils out collecting samples for nature study—Miss Stacy has long struck me as a sort of Charlotte Mason-style educator. The timing would be about right, but I have no idea whether Miss Mason’s principles traveled across the Atlantic to eastern Canada.

I thought it might be fun to collect some quotes about these literary naturalists; I’ll start off with a few below and if you have suggestions, please chime in!

Here’s Miss Calpurnia Tate, discovering the joys of recording nature observations in her Notebook-with-a-capital-N:

Before I went to bed that night, I took a can full of oats from the stable and dribbled them along the drive. I wrote in the Notebook, How many cardinals will we have next year, with not enough to eat? Remember to count.

I next wrote in my Notebook that we had two different kinds of grasshoppers that summer. We had the usual quick little emerald ones decorated all over with black speckles. And then there were huge bright yellow ones, twice as big, and torpid, so waxy and fat that they bowed down the grasses when they landed. I had never seen these before. I polled everyone in the house (except Grandfather) to find out where these odd yellow specimens had come from, but nobody could tell me.

(Callie’s quest to find out becomes the catalyst of a real relationship with her grandfather, himself an ardent naturalist, who has heretofore been only an intimidating and distant presence in her life. When no one else in her family has insight—nor interest, for that matter—in the grasshopper mystery, young Calpurnia gathers her courage and approaches the “dragon” in his den—er, laboratory. He dismisses her with a directive to figure it out herself, and when she does, all by herself, Grandfather emerges from his busy thoughts enough to take a fresh look at this girl-child he’d scarcely noticed until now—”as if I were a new species he’d never seen before.” From that point on, life will never be the same for Callie Vee.)

Now here’s Anne, infected by Miss Stacy’s enthusiasm for nature study:

“Mrs. Lynde says it made her blood run cold to see the boys climbing to the very tops of those big trees on Bell’s hill after crows’ nests last Friday,” said Marilla. “I wonder at Miss Stacy for encouraging it.”

“But we wanted a crow’s nest for nature study,” explained Anne. “That was on our field afternoon. Field afternoons are splendid, Marilla. And Miss Stacy explains everything so beautifully. We have to write compositions on our field afternoons and I write the best ones.”

—from Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

And here’s Dan, opening up to Mrs. Jo about his interest in the wild world:

“Where did you learn so much about these things?”

“I always liked ‘em, but didn’t know much till Mr. Hyde told me.”

“Who was Mr. Hyde?”

“Oh, he was a man who lived round in the woods studying these things I don’t know what you call him and wrote about frogs, and fishes, and so on. He stayed at Page’s, and used to want me to go and help him, and it was great fun, ’cause he told me ever so much, and was uncommon jolly and wise. Hope I’ll see him again sometime.”

“I hope you will,” said Mrs. Jo, for Dan’s face had brightened up, and he was so interested in the matter that he forgot his usual taciturnity.

“Why, he could make birds come to him, and rabbits and squirrels didn’t mind him any more than if he was a tree. Did you ever tickle a lizard with a straw?” asked Dan, eagerly.

“No, but I should like to try it.”

“Well, I’ve done it, and it’s so funny to see ‘em turn over and stretch out, they like it so much. Mr. Hyde used to do it; and he’d make snakes listen to him while he whistled, and he knew just when certain flowers would blow, and bees wouldn’t sting him, and he’d tell the wonderfullest things about fish and flies, and the Indians and the rocks.”

—from Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Here’s Mary Lennox meeting Dickon for the first time:

The robin listened a few seconds, intently, and then answered quite as if he were replying to a question.

“Aye, he’s a friend o’ yours,” chuckled Dickon.

“Do you think he is?” cried Mary eagerly. She did so want to know. “Do you think he really likes me?”

“He wouldn’t come near thee if he didn’t,” answered Dickon. “Birds is rare choosers an’ a robin can flout a body worse than a man. See, he’s making up to thee now. ‘Cannot tha’ see a chap?’ he’s sayin’.”

And it really seemed as if it must be true. He so sidled and twittered and tilted as he hopped on his bush.

“Do you understand everything birds say?” said Mary.

Dickon’s grin spread until he seemed all wide, red, curving mouth, and he rubbed his rough head.

“I think I do, and they think I do,” he said. “I’ve lived on th’ moor with ’em so long. I’ve watched ’em break shell an’ come out an’ fledge an’ learn to fly an’ begin to sing, till I think I’m one of ’em. Sometimes I think p’raps I’m a bird, or a fox, or a rabbit, or a squirrel, or even a beetle, an’ I don’t know it.”

—from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Whom else shall we include?

Related posts:
“Some breezy open wherein it seemeth always afternoon”
“A little egg lay on a leaf”
“At first I could only hear people sounds…”

Newbery Yippee

January 18, 2010 @ 7:44 am | Filed under: Books

I woke up this morning to the happy news that When You Reach Me won the Newbery Award. I was rooting for it! Here’s what I had to say about it in September:

…I want to tell you all about how much I enjoyed Rebecca Stead’s excellent middle-grade novel, When You Reach Me—but if I say anything, practically anything at all, I’ll give away things I’d rather you discovered yourself in the pages of the book, in the perfect way Stead has chosen to reveal them to you. I can say that it’s about a girl who reads A Wrinkle in Time repeatedly, constantly; that her best friend, a boy, abruptly withdraws from her; that her mother is a single, working mom hoping for a chance to shine on $20,000 Pyramid; that it’s 1979; that there’s a mystery; that there are characters I will never forget, completely fresh, completely believable; that I haven’t read a novel that nails the flavor of New York City so perfectly since, gosh, Harriet the Spy. But none of that tells you what I loved most about the book, or what makes it sing, or why I won’t soon forget it. I can’t tell you those things until you’ve read it—and then you won’t need me to, because you’ll know too.

This year’s Newbery Honor books are:

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

• Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (we just brought this home home from the library on Saturday; I’d been hearing great things about it)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly—here was my response to that one:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I loved it: this funny, tangy tale of an eleven-year-old girl, surrounded by brothers on a Texas pecan farm in 1899, with a mother yearning for a girly-girl, a fascination with the critters whose doings she records in her very important notebook, and an aloof, bewhiskered grandfather who has never, until now, seemed to notice her existence. I was delighted by the way Callie and her grandfather become acquainted with one another via their mutual interest in the natural world—he’s a correspondent of Charles Darwin and an amateur naturalist and scientist, ever on the lookout for a new species of flora or fauna that might add his name to the rolls of the distinguished discoverers of the day. At first he reacts to Callie rather as if she’s a curious new species herself, and the feeling is mutual. Slowly, they bond…oh, I loved it, the slow revelation of kindred spirits. And meanwhile, there are family antics, and wondrous new technology coming to town (a telephone! an automobile!), and Callie has to figure out how to carve out time for her burning interests when the womenfolk in her life demand piano practice and embroidery and cookery lessons. Certainly there have been many books tackling a girl’s struggles to define and defend her own identity as the people around her seem determined to squeeze her into a mold she isn’t sure fits—I’ve worked with that theme myself, in my Martha books—but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone quite like Miss Calpurnia Tate. It’s the setting, the context, that sold me on this book: I’d place it with The Great Brain and Ginger Pye on my mental bookshelf: episodic, comical, historically delicious novels full of eccentric and lovable characters, with that something extra that sets them apart from the crowd.

SLJ has a list of all this year’s award winners (Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, etc). Congratulations to all!

Other people’s thoughts, both before and after the awards:
Mother ReaderSemicolonEducating Alice

Guardian interview with Rebecca Stead:

Stead, who lives in Manhattan with her family, said in an interview with Amazon.com that although she loved A Wrinkle in Time as a child, she hadn’t originally intended to include it in her own prize-winning novel.

“It started out as a small detail in Miranda’s story, a sort of talisman, and one I thought I would eventually jettison, because you can’t just toss A Wrinkle in Time in there casually,” she said. “But as my story went deeper, I saw that I didn’t want to let the book go. I talked about it with my editor, Wendy Lamb, and to others close to the story. And what we decided was that if we were going to bring L’Engle’s story in, we needed to make the book’s relationship to Miranda’s story stronger. So I went back to A Wrinkle in Time and read it again and again, trying to see it as different characters in my own story might (sounds crazy, but it’s possible). And those readings led to new connections.”

Writing about Reading, and Why I Can’t Always (and Yet Always Want To)

September 30, 2009 @ 8:53 pm | Filed under: Books

Why, I wonder, am I so compelled to write about my reading life? I suppose it has something to do with memory, with holding on to things (we recall best those things which we have narrated, as Charlotte Mason was astute enough to recognize), and also with the way putting thoughts into words, written words, shifts vague and swirling impressions to coherent observations, connections, understanding.

Then, too, the urge to talk (write) about books springs also from booklover’s enthusiasm: when I’ve enjoyed something, or even just parts of something, I am eager, eager, eager to share. This creates all sorts of readerly, writerly dilemmas for me: sometimes I start conversations that I can’t squeeze out time to finish (though, in my mind, they are never finished, never closed; and I’m always figuring I’ll have a chance to chime in at some point). Sometimes I want to talk about books that I mostly loved, but I had this one quibble with a plot point, or I thought the ending was weak, or the first-person narrative voice was an unfortunate choice, or—well, any critical observations at all, and if the author is a living person, I find myself completely paralyzed at the prospect of putting my criticism in print. (Which is why, of course, I’m not a book reviewer by trade.)

When You Reach MeThen, of course, there’s the spoiler problem, over which I’ve sweated here before. For example, I want to tell you all about how much I enjoyed Rebecca Stead’s excellent middle-grade novel, When You Reach Me—but if I say anything, practically anything at all, I’ll give away things I’d rather you discovered yourself in the pages of the book, in the perfect way Stead has chosen to reveal them to you. I can say that it’s about a girl who reads A Wrinkle in Time repeatedly, constantly; that her best friend, a boy, abruptly withdraws from her; that her mother is a single, working mom hoping for a chance to shine on $20,000 Pyramid; that it’s 1979; that there’s a mystery; that there are characters I will never forget, completely fresh, completely believable; that I haven’t read a novel that nails the flavor of New York City so perfectly since, gosh, Harriet the Spy. But none of that tells you what I loved most about the book, or what makes it sing, or why I won’t soon forget it. I can’t tell you those things until you’ve read it—and then you won’t need me to, because you’ll know too.

calpurniaOr how about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly? I loved it: this funny, tangy tale of an eleven-year-old girl, surrounded by brothers on a Texas pecan farm in 1899, with a mother yearning for a girly-girl, a fascination with the critters whose doings she records in her very important notebook, and an aloof, bewhiskered grandfather who has never, until now, seemed to notice her existence. I was delighted by the way Callie and her grandfather become acquainted with one another via their mutual interest in the natural world—he’s a correspondent of Charles Darwin and an amateur naturalist and scientist, ever on the lookout for a new species of flora or fauna that might add his name to the rolls of the distinguished discoverers of the day. At first he reacts to Callie rather as if she’s a curious new species herself, and the feeling is mutual. Slowly, they bond…oh, I loved it, the slow revelation of kindred spirits. And meanwhile, there are family antics, and wondrous new technology coming to town (a telephone! an automobile!), and Callie has to figure out how to carve out time for her burning interests when the womenfolk in her life demand piano practice and embroidery and cookery lessons. Certainly there have been many books tackling a girl’s struggles to define and defend her own identity as the people around her seem determined to squeeze her into a mold she isn’t sure fits—I’ve worked with that theme myself, in my Martha books—but I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone quite like Miss Calpurnia Tate. It’s the setting, the context, that sold me on this book: I’d place it with The Great Brain and Ginger Pye on my mental bookshelf: episodic, comical, historically delicious novels full of eccentric and lovable characters, with that something extra that sets them apart from the crowd.

And I’ve ten times written and deleted a sentence of criticism about one of these two novels, which my what-if-I-hurt-the-writer’s-feelings cowardice will not allow me to keep intact. How’s that for some obnoxious ambiguity?