Books for the Reading: Reading Surprises

by Lynn Wienck, The Chisholm Trail Bookstore

It’s now winter in southern Oklahoma, complete with freezing temperatures and occasional snow. Frost forms on window panes; I’ve traced elegant, branching designs with my fingers. There is such surprising, amazing beauty in frost

I always enjoy the Newbery Medal and Honor Books, although sometimes it takes me several years to read them; I usually just depend on serendipity to locate them. Over the last several weeks, I started and finished The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honor Book.

The protagonist, Calpurnia, is a precocious 11-year-old girl who aspires to study natural history. However, in Texas in 1899, women have lives mapped out for them in such domains as deportment, knitting, embroidery, recipes, marriage, and minding babies. Calpurnia, despite her mother’s traditional frame of mind, receives support from an unexpected source; her grandfather proves a staunch and learned ally in her nontraditional quests. It is he who offers her Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species (first published in 1859 as On the Origin of Species) as an aid to her research; he also provides guidance and encouragement regarding scientific investigative methods and serves as an example.

And so Calpurnia’s real learning begins; she experiments and observes and records. Her scientific endeavors are sandwiched between sewing, music lessons, cooking instruction, and family squabbles. Her domestic skills are abysmal; her scientific discipline exceptional. She gradually realizes her own strengths.

For an element of surprise and beauty, step outside and take a moment to view winter’s frost closely. Then enjoy a book for the same reasons.

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