August 3, 2011

Girl naturalist

by Jacqueline Kelly

Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate (aka Callie Vee) doesn’t excel in sewing or cooking, skills her mother deems important for a girl about to come out (as a debutante). Smart and observant, Callie is more interested in science. This is not an acceptable calling for a girl in 1899, but it delights her crotchety grandfather. He gives Callie a controversial book, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and includes her in his outdoor explorations. They even think they've discovered a new plant, and send a letter to the Smithsonian for verification. While they wait for word from the institute, Callie describes her other adventures - a piano concert gone awry, her brothers’ love lives, her brother Travis’ pet turkeys, and her miserable cooking lesson.

Callie’s voice is feisty, engaging, and hilarious, especially when forced to critique her woeful knitting. As her mother lectures her, Callie spends the time thinking about the intelligence of parrots. Needless to say, her parents will not approve of Callie's scientific aspirations. But when one of her New Year's resolutions come true, we know that Callie will somehow find her way.

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