Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate

22718679Kelly, Jacqueline. The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate.
July 7th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from Baker and Taylor

In early 1900s Texas, Callie is increasingly irritated that her brothers get more responsibility, money, and opportunities than she does, based solely on their gender. The biggest case in point is her brother Travis, who loves all animals and repeatedly tries to tame wild ones and bring them home, always with less than satisfactory results. Even though Travis proves to be an ineffective helper to the new veterinarian in town, Dr. Pritzker (Travis tends to get ill at the sight of blood or internal organs), his parents think he could go to college to become a vet-- but Callie may only go for one year, in order to get a teaching license. While Callie's grandfather has worked with her for years to encourage her interest in his scientific pursuits, to the extent that he doesn't even know the names of her brothers, Callie's mother and father seem oddly disconnected from their daughter and have no idea that she is capable enough to not only concoct the anaesthetic for an operation on an animal but to administer it as well. In the wake of the Galveston hurricane, cousin Aggie has come to stay with the family. She is offered an assistant's position at the school and not only demands to be paid, but demands more money than is originally offered! Emboldened by that move, Callie starts saving money for her education herself, even paying Aggie for typewriting lessons and renting her typewriter to use preparing labels and correspondence for Dr. Pritzker. When Aggie surprises the family with her actions, will it decrease Callie's chances of making her own way in the world?
Strengths: This has S.T.E.M. tie-in written all over it! There is weather science, dissecting worms, learning the habits of Texas animals, veterinary science, and all manner of things. Callie is a strong female characer who is shown fearlessly taking advantage of the few opportunities available at the time. Nonfiction about the Galveston storm would be an excellent companion to this.
Weaknesses: The family seemed dysfunctional in odd ways, and Travis didn't seem too bright. If the armadillo stinks and only runs away from you, it probably is not a good pet.
What I really think: I should adore this one. Strong female character, silhouettes on cover, historical fiction... and yet I wasn't thrilled with it. Maybe the Texas setting? Only bought a paperback of the first one. Totally a personal objection-- I can see this being purchased for every middle school library.

23395689Smith, Tamara Ellis. Another Kind of Hurricane
July 14th 2015 by Schwartz & Wade
Copy received from the publisher.

Henry lives in Vermont and is struggling with the death of his best friend and running companion, Wayne. Tavion lives with his father, who paints murals, in New Orleans. He is struggling with death of his mother, and also the loss of the family home during Hurricane Katrina. When Henry's mother gives away a pair of jeans that have a lucky marble that he and Wayne shared, he manages to get a ride with a truck delivering relief supplies to New Orleans in order to try to find it. (Sounds like Kate Brian's Lucky T, doesn't it?) Although Tavion and his father have escaped the hurricane's devastation, Tavion is overcome with guilt over stealing a couple of candy bars from a store and travels back to repay the money. The boys meet up, and with the help of a variety of other somewhat quirky characters, end up back in Vermont together where they can both start to heal.
Strengths: A sad, lyrical story about love and loss set against the background of a riveting historical event. There are a number of Hurricane Katrina books, and this does offer a slight twist to the usual story. I like that the cover displays some diversity.
Weaknesses: This book continues the trend of sad books for middle grade. When people die, the survivors often struggle with these emotions every single day, and Smith portrays these feelings with accuracy and poignancy.
What I really think: People don't want to live these emotions, much less read about them. I wish this were more hopeful.

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