Monday, January 3, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Calpurnia Tate

Shannon Whitney Messenger started this Marvelous Middle Grade meme so be sure to check out her blog post this week on Gail Carson Levine's Fairies and the Quest for Never Land.  Aly, at Kid Lit Frenzy, has a  review of Zora and Me.  Shannon O'Donnell talks about Reckless.

We're only a week away from this year's Newbery (and other) award announcements.  So I think it only appropriate to discuss a Newbery honor winner from last year.  If you haven't yet read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, what the heck are you waiting for?  It's now out in paperback! (Publisher: Square Fish/Henry Holt, January 4, 2011, for ages 9 to 12.) Thanks, Joan, for the recommendation.

This historical novel is a delight from the first page to the last.  Callie is so real you wouldn't be surprised if she walked into the room right now, and so likeable and funny, you wish she would.  For two days, I've been totally absorbed in her world, Texas in the summer of 1899.  Honestly, I've been taking my time with it because I didn't want it to end.

Callie discovers that she and the grandfather she used to fear have something in common.  They're naturalists.  Callie's the only daughter in a large family of rough and tumble brothers.  Her mother tries desperately to make her a lady, to teach her how to cook and knit and sew.  But all Callie wants to do is follow Granddaddy out to the river to observe nature and collect insects and plant specimens.  Maybe the rare plant they found is a new species!  Maybe they'll be famous! Callie thinks this is infinitely more interesting than piano practice or lessons in deportment, both of which she considers a huge waste of time.

The most quotable book I've read in ages, this one's a true literary gem.  Here's a lovely example from page 52-53 (of the paperback).  Callie is telling us about all the dogs on the sprawling estate, and the fact that most of them are Outside Dogs.

"They all knew this, but it didn't stop them from good-naturedly crowding the front door every time it opened, every single time, despite the fact that they were never--ever--let into the house.  I loved this particularly fine thing about the dogs: Despite a lifetime of denied entrance, hope never died in their hearts."


Think about that last line for a minute.

If that's not a perfect metaphor for writing, I don't know what is.  Despite a lifetime of rejection, hope never dies in our hearts.  Jacqueline Kelly, you're awesome.

Since I'm gearing up for next Monday's ALA announcements (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, Coretta Scott King, and other awards) for books that were published in 2010,  I won't post a book review next Monday.  But check back soon, because I might have something up my sleeve about award predictions.  Can you predict the future?  Hmmm.  

What marvelous book (MG or YA or adult) are you reading in the new year?  


  1. My agent sent me a copy of Calpurnia in 2009. It was lovely! My favorite quote it about a book, a sandwich, a kitten, and a bed being heaven, or some such.

    I got your book a few days ago and am so touched you would think of me in this way.

  2. Oh, of course! I loved that part too: "Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really." (p. 60 in the paperback). See? It's so very quotable.

    I'm emailing you about Josh's book. Glad it arrived.

  3. Aw, that is such a touching quote. Reminds me of the time my daughter had to vote at school about whether or not the groundhog would see his shadow. I asked how she voted and she said, "Well, I think he is going to see his shadow, but I hope he doesn't. So, I voted with my hope."

    I'll have to check out that book.

  4. Corey, that's adorable! Thanks for stopping in.

  5. Believe me, none of the great YA books I'll be reading this year will win a Newbery. They're just not those kind of books. :)

  6. Oh ha ha, Stina. Too mature, eh? Maybe one of your favorites will win the Printz award. Check out my contest going on above.


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