Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Making of a Naturalist!

I have always been fascinated by nature, though I am a tentative and timid explorer. I like to observe, but am a bit squeamish and reserved. I harbour a secret desire to be a gardener and herbalist. I have taken classes in herbalism, but not finished my course of study. Maybe that will be next up on my to-do list. Get the paying job situated, but then pursue an interest of my own, a genuine interest.

Calpurnia Tate is my hero, one who has inspired me to cultivate the naturalist in my children more this year. As you may know from reading my blog, I homeschool. Calpurnia Tate is the protagonist in the book written by Jacqueline Kelly called The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.

I recommend this book for all homeschooling parents, for anyone interested in science, for people who grew up in large families, or for anyone wishing to remember how it was to be a child. Also, it is a good read for women's studies both from the homemaker's perspective and from the women's rights point of view.

Set in the summer of 1899 Calpurnia is a nearly-twelve-year-old girl. She lives with her parents, six brothers, grandfather, cook, and housekeeper on a cotton plantation of over 600 acres in Fentress, TX. Known as Callie Vee, she is sandwiched between three older brothers and three younger brothers in the birth and pecking order of the family. They are a wealthy and well respected family within the community. The times are such that Callie is expected to be a homemaker, and she is at that age where she is to start learning the domestic arts. She is a lost soul within her family, her mother is looking forward to her "coming out" in a few years, and Callie is just plain not interested.

She, unexpectedly, finds a kindred spirit in the grandfather she has been afraid of all her life when she musters up the courage to ask him a question about why there were two kinds of grasshoppers, the usual green and huge bright yellow ones. His answer was, "I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have."

Callie's reaction was:

So, that was that. My audience with the dragon. I counted it a wash. On the one
hand, he hadn't breathed fire at me, but on the other, he'd been no help at all.

The result of this exchange was Callie decided to hitch a ride with her eldest brother when he went to town, so she could use the library to try and get her answer. Her grandfather, being retired, had taken up the study of nature. He had a little laboratory in the shed out back, and a library filled with books and specimens, which was off limits to everyone. Through dinner conversation between her grandfather and the local minister, she had learned of Darwin's The Origin of Species and felt the controversial book was the one to consult.

At the library Callie is humiliated by the librarian, who thoughtlessly and somewhat cruelly states that such a book is not to be housed in her library, and if she wanted it she would have to pay 50 cents to have it shipped. Did she have 50 cents? Callie's red-faced answer was no. Then the librarian told her she would need a note from her mother before she could read that particular book, did she have such a note? Of course Callie did not. To that the librarian replied, "I thought not. Now, I have books to be shelved. You must excuse me."

Callie was outraged. But she continued to think of the grasshoppers, came up with a theory, and presented it to her grandfather. He was surprised and asked her if she had come up with that idea on her own, or if she had help. She told him about the library, how she could not get the help, or consult the book, and reiterated that it was her own idea. Her grandfather walked her into the inner sanctum of his private library, unlocked the cabinet of extra-special books, and presented her with his copy of Darwin's book, to read at her leisure. After that they were inseparable in their study of nature.

The book makes you want to get a blank journal, go draw pictures, and record your own nature observations. It highlights the awesomeness of nature, and the beauty of inter-generational family relationships. Anyone who reads the book will be entertained and will find themselves more observant of the world around them. This is a J-Fic story and would make a wonderful read-aloud for the entire family. There were parts that were hilarious, and there is overall a lot of love in the book. There is much to discuss, within the pages, and it will get young minds churning. If I had a rating system, this book would get the top rating. It is just that good !!

In light of my beginning thoughts, I shall look for books to inspire the budding naturalist, in both myself and my children. I also plan to read The God of Mischief which is the second book of Paul Bajoria's trilogy. My reading is slowing down between my own classes and my planning of the children's homeschool year.

This post is linked to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?


Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I like the looks and sounds of this one. Thanks for sharing about it! Have a super week!

....Petty Witter said...

Whoops! I misread naturalist as naturist - now that would have been a wholly different post.

A colorful cover, I like the look and sound of this book, thanks for the recommendation.

Lily said...

Thanks for stopping by, and yes, do read this one!

I just about spit my coffee! I am rather conservative, dress modestly (though fashionably), and would never dream of going au naturel for religious or any other reasons, lol. Thanks for the laugh, wait till I tell my hubby!! He just may spit his coffee as well!

Stephanie said...

Yes the naturist homeschooling mom would've been interesting! :-D

This book sounds terrific -- a wonderful story about an autodidact naturalist. I homeschool too, and I have a wannabe naturalist lurking inside me. I definitely want to add more living nature books to my repertoire.

sheisreading said...

Hi. I have a question about the book. Does it take a side in the Creation v. Evolution debate?

Please let me know. Thanks.

Carolyn Watson-Dubisch said...

This book sounds fantastic! It makes me think of Beatrix Potter who drew so much from nature and kept elaborate journals!

Lily said...

Heather, the book merely acknowledges the controversy, but does not really fall on either side. About the only explanation I recall was when Callie remarked about the debate between her grandfather and the preacher over one of their monthly dinners. It is brought up more than once that despite their difference of opinion on certain subjects, the two men remained great friends. The author does very well handling many topics in an age-appropriate way for the target audience. And it is narrated by Callie, so her understanding of these topics (as an 11-year-old) is minimal.

Violet said...

Thank you so much for sharing your review. I have checked this book out from the library twice, but both times I happened to have several other books lined up ahead of it and had to return it unread. Your review reminded me that I need to place it back on my hold list because it sounds like a book I'd absolutely LOVE! :)

- Violet @ The Eager Readers

sheisreading said...

Thanks so much for the helpful response. I am considering home schooling.
Here's my book blog: