Friday, April 12, 2019

Review of "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate"

Review by Catherine Baty

Kelly, Jacqueline. (2011). The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

In 1899, 11-year-old Calpurnia spends her summer noting scientific observations in a notebook. Wanting to learn everything about the world around her, she seeks out Charles Darwin's the Origin of Species. After she is unable to get the book from the library, she discusses her findings with her grandfather, who lends her a copy of the book. All summer she learns more about the field of natural science from her grandfather who is very disappointed that she doesn't learn about science in school. She becomes slightly disgusted with the nearby river after looking at a bit of water through a microscope, but is assured that the river is perfectly safe.Through the last bit of summer Calpurnia raises what she thinks will become a butterfly, but it becomes a moth and soon it's back to school. It is decided that Clapurnia is putting too much time into science and not enough into studies more proper for a young lady, like sewing and cooking. At her birthday party, Calpurnia has a rush of inspiration about her future. She will go to university and become a scientist. Christmas comes and she is gifted The Science of Housekeeping by her parents. Heart-broken, Calpurnia realizes that her parents may never see her as a scientist. The book ends on New Year's Day 1900, when Calpurnia awakes to a world covered in snow.

Calpurnia comes to life in Kelly's novel. The characters are accurate to their time period, sometimes painfully or infuriatingly so. When her parents discuss her future as a homemaker as though it is planned, or when she is made to study things that a lady ought instead of focusing her free time on scientific pursuits, I was at a loss, but in 1899, nothing less is to be expected. Though the plot is slow at times, her eldest brother's first love interest was an unnecessarily overlong element, it generally bustles along at an even pace. The connections that were made between scenes in Calpurnia's life and quotes from The Origin of Species were particularly well done. As they give the reader hints of what to expect in the coming pages, I found myself more curious and wanting to continue reading because of their inclusion. Though the over-arching theme is the coming-of-age of a young girl, I would also say that the theme of learning for learning's sake is another. No matter what product-of-its-time is put in Calpurnia's path; sewing, cooking, "deportment", she knows that she wants to study the world and she will fight to do so, in her own way. I was glad to find that stereotyping was not found in the pages, in its place was an obvious amount of research and grace in writing. My only qualm in the book was the wedging in of "a brand-new drink we'd all heard about, Coco-Cola." in the chapter that took place at the fair. The words dedicated to it seemed to come with a wink and a nudge that annoyed me. Ultimately though this book is first in a series, it does not leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, though there is room for the volume that follows.

Newbery Honor 2010
ALSC Notable Books 2010
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults 2010

"Throughout this story are the obvious signs of the time and the small-town Texas setting, which will intrigue young readers. I especially like the manner in which the characters speak to one another. The references to the inventions that come about add charm to the story." - Tricia Grady, Library Media Connection in October 2009

"A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century." - Jennifer Schultz, School Library Journal on May 1, 2009

"Without anachronism, Kelly has created a spirited young woman who's refreshingly ahead of her time." - Horn Book Guide on March, 2010

Connect English and Science, have the students write observations of their own throughout the reading of the book. Discuss their observations, what did they see that's the same? Different? Throughout their observations, students can draw their favorites. After finishing the book, the students can select a single observation and present it to the class as a new discovery. This will also require library research.

Gather with middle grade science books, like:

  • Broom, Jenny, and Katie Scott Animalium ISBN 9781787411647
  • Broom, Jenny, and Katie Scott Botanicum ISBN 9780763689230
  • DK Publishing, Inc. Eyewitness Weather ISBN 9781465451811
  • DK Publishing, Inc. Eyewitness Reptile ISBN 9781465462527

Review of "The Hired Girl"

Review by Catherine Baty

Schlitz, L. A. (2017). The Hired Girl.

In 1911, 14-year-old Joan is being taken out of school by her father. Since her mother died a few years prior, her father feels she should help her family on their farm. Before she leaves school, she is gifted a journal from her teacher, Miss. Chandler, who tells her to write with "truth and refinement". Joan loves to read and write, but her father holds the worst opinions about her. After an incident between her father, herself and Miss. Chandler, Joan decides to ask about getting to keep the money from selling the eggs, as her mother did. She is rudely denied and decides to strike. In retaliation to the strike, her father burns her books. After this unforgivable act, Joan runs away. Her mother had hidden $29 by sewing it into the apron of a doll. Joan uses some of the money to travel to Baltimore, though she leaves a note saying she's going to stay with her aunt. Lying about her age and identity by saying she is 18 and called Janet Lovelace, she finds work with a kind Jewish family and begins to learn about life in a Jewish household. Once the master of the house learns her love of reading, he allows her to use the library. She even makes friends with the youngest child, Mimi, who is 12, though Mimi's mother is not fond of the friendship. Life in the Rosenbach household is good for Joan, even as she makes mistakes. When the youngest son, David, returns from New York, Joan finds herself falling for him. An artist and a bit notorious with the ladies, David seems to see the beauty that other's in Joan's life have not. On a dreadful night, Joan learns that David is leaving to Paris and no one told her, so she sneaks out to talk to him. They are discovered by the other housekeeper and it is found out that David kissed Joan, everything else comes out too. Mimi had read Joan's diary and knows everything. It is decided that Joan will continue to work for the family, with David in Paris, but that she will also attend school beginning in the fall. She writes the last passage of her diary the day before school starts, excited and hopeful.

Schlitz is an expert at characterization. Reading though, I felt such anger towards Joan's father that I wanted to reach through the book and give him a piece of my mind. Of course, everything that he said was proper to the time. What does Joan need with an education, when she has a family to care for? When he yells at the dinner table, ""You'd better jump," he snarled. "You'd better jump, and you'd better cower, if you're going to come pestering me for that egg money."" I was frightened for Joan, and for her brothers. I could feel her pain dripping off each page as she stood against each cruel word her father spoke. The plot did not slow from there, but picked up pace. I was continually urged onward, right up until the end. Along the way each character sprang to life bringing with them meaningful dialogue and action. The settings were important to the novel as Joan moves from city to country, so does her outlook on life change as the settings reflected both who she is and what she wanted to become. At no point does this coming-of-age historical novel  make the reader feel lost in the world of 1911, but a part of it. Since Joan was an outsider to city life in the the time, and the book is written as a diary, the reader is able to learn with Joan as she navigates this new and confusing life as a hired girl. The authenticity of this story is to be praised, right down to Joan attempting to convert a young member of the family to Catholicism "the True faith" as she calls it. This moment in the book teaches Joan and young readers about the arrogance that can be found by holding one's own beliefs in higher regard than another's. Once Joan learns about the persecution of the Jews and takes down her crucifix for the sake of the housekeeper, she writes, "Even though taking Him down is a little bit like being persecuted, it isn't the kind of persecution where babies are torn apart in the street." This lesson would be particularly relevant to a young audience today. This understanding, that there are different types of suffering and that we should care about the history of other's is vital to the development of empathy and I believe that a classroom audience would be receptive to it, especially if it were taught along with more current immigrant stories. Even though I found Joan to be overly naive, I cared for her and wanted her to succeed. I was a fish on a hook, Schlitz had me enthralled.

Scott O' Dell Award 2016
National Jewish Book Award for Children's and Young Adult Literature 2016
Sydney Taylor Book Award for Teen Readers 2016

" The diary format allows Joan's romantic tendencies full rein, as well as narrative latitude for a few highly improbable scenarios and wildly silly passion. Tons of period details, especially about clothing, round out a highly satisfying and smart breast-clutcher from this Newbery-winning author." - Contributor, Kirkus Reviews on July 15, 2015

"Readers are treated to a domestic education as Joan describes the incredible amount of work required to keep house in the early 20th century. Coming-of-age drama and deeper questions of faith, belonging, and womanhood are balanced with just the right blend of humor." - Lisa Crandall, School Library Journal on August 1, 2015

"The book is framed as Joan’s diary, and her weaknesses, foibles, and naiveté come through as clearly—and as frequently—as her hopes, dreams, and aspirations." - Elissa Gershowitz, Horn Book Magazine in September/October, 2015

Gather with other YA books about immigrants from past to present, like:
  • Lai, Thanhha Inside Out & Back Again ISBN  9781432859916
  • Diaz, Alexandra The Only Road ISBN  9781481457514
  • Kadohata, Cynthia Kira-kira ISBN 9788992172202