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Review of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

kelly_curious world of calpurnia tateThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly
Intermediate, Middle School     Holt     309 pp.
7/15     978-0-8050-9744-3     $16.99     g

Kelly returns to turn-of-the-last-century small-town central Texas to continue the story of nascent scientist Callie Vee. Kelly quickly fills readers in on essential background (only girl in the family, with six brothers; Callie’s avid pursuit of nature studies with formidable Granddaddy — check) before diving in to chronicle Callie’s thirteenth year. Like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (rev. 9/09), this sequel is episodic, punctuated by birthdays and holidays and major events such as the September 1900 hurricane that devastated Galveston. The glue that holds it together is one-year-younger brother Travis’s heartwarming search for a pet (and since he’s looking for stray-animal love in all the wrong places — an armadillo? a raccoon? baby blue jays? — it also provides some comic relief ). But the fuel is Callie’s growing understanding of herself as a young woman of intellect and ability in a world that isn’t ready for her. When the hurricane brings refugees to town, including a veterinarian, Callie discovers her vocation; but, says Dr. Pritzker, the work is “too much for a lady,” and Callie’s conventional parents can’t imagine sending a mere girl to veterinary college. Kelly seeds the story with enough small, stinging incidents of
gender discrimination that when eventually Callie stops weeping over “the hard fact of being a half citizen in my own home” and determines to find a way to fulfill her ambition, it’s both believable and cheer-worthy. A thought-provoking and engaging read, if not for those with delicate constitutions; here’s Dr. Pritzker treating a horse’s abscessed foot: “A great gout of foul-smelling black fluid erupted from the hoof; it fountained all the way across the stall and splattered on the far wall, missing us by inches.”

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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