Archive for October, 2009

THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly

TATEFeisty, 11 year old Calpurnia Virginia (Callie Vee) Tate lives in rural Texas in 1899.  Unlike other girls her age, she has no interest in tackling the womanly pursuits of sewing, cooking, lace-making and knitting. In fact, her efforts inevitably end with disastrous results. Instead, Callie would rather explore the flora and fauna of the family’s 600 acres with her grandfather, an amateur naturalist. Together, they collect specimens and record their observations in a notebook given to Callie by her beloved older brother, Harry.

The theme of each chapter is represented by a quote from Darwin’s The Origin of Species, a book that plays a large role in this story. Callie’s interest in this “controversial” book is noted by her grandfather, who, to her delight, gives her a copy to study. Her grandfather also educates her in the scientific method and tells her about women who have become famous scientists. Boosted by her grandfather’s encouragement, Callie may yet be able to withstand her family’s expectations to enter society, find a suitable beau, marry and have children. Maybe she will have the fortitude to fight for her dream of going to university to study science instead.

Many entertaining episodes leave the reader chuckling:

  • Callie’s animal loving younger brother Travis, who gets too attached to the turkeys meant for Thanksgiving dinner
  • 3 of Callie’s brothers falling in love with her best friend, Lula
  • Callie’s annoyance at Harry’s courtship of a vain, insipid bore

This is a great cross-over novel, especially for those girls who don’t fit into their family’s or society’s expectations.

 J-Fiction Highly Recommended, Marci Dressler- Ossining

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October 28, 2009 at 7:41 pm Leave a comment

DAUGHTERS OF THE SEA: HANNAH by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic 2009)

hannahThere are at least three different plot lines in this fantasy; a chaste love story, a girl who can turn herself into a mermaid, and the social mores of the upper class and the servant class below stairs. Hannah is a teenage orphan who must find employment. She is outspoken and opinionated which is not welcome in a servant. However, she manages to secure a job as a scullery maid in the posh residence of the Hawleys in Boston. She is also deeply drawn to the sea. The Hawleys have a summer house in Mount Desert Island in Maine. There she discovers that when she submerges in the ocean she turns into a mermaid. It is lucky for her to have this means of escape because both Hannah and Lila Hawley fall in love with the same artist. Lasky spends great chunks of time analyzing the cramped lives of the servant class and the spoiled lives of the Brahmins. Unconvincingly, young Hannah has 21st century ideas of equality while living in the 19th century. Neither the love story nor the class descriptions make this a compelling book.

J Fantasy, Not Recommended- Lillian Hecker-PELHAM

October 28, 2009 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

THE BOOK OF DRAGONS by E. Nesbit and illustrated by H.R. Millar (Random House Children’s Books 2010)

dragonsOver 100 years ago Edith Nesbit wrote children’s books in England that include this one about dragons. You may wonder whether 21st century children will enjoy listening to or reading this old book. In my mind, these eight stories would work best when adults read to children.  English money, nannies, royalty, Guy Fawkes, Parliament and other place and time details can be quickly explained. The fanciful aspects, on the other hand, require no explications. None of the dragons in these tales are overly frightening, but all require careful handling by clever children.  Not only do the children manage to rid the world of insatiable armor-clad creatures, they do so by doing good. The children outwit the adults and win the friendships of helpful creatures by acting compassionately. Negative qualities, such as male gender preference, school routines, officious government leaders, pride, and caning come in for some rough drubbing by Nesbit. Although the world never seems to run out of dragons, every story in this collection has a happy ending.

J Fiction (Fantasy).  Recommended- Lillian Hecker (Pelham)

October 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

TUMTUM AND NUTMEG: ADVENTURES BEYOND NUTMOUSE HALL by Emily Bearn and illustrated by Nick Price (Little Brown & Co.. 2009)

tumtumIn Rose Cottage live the Mildew Family; Mr. Mildew, a widower and a frustrated inventor of useless gadgets like grape peelers and singing key rings and his two children Arthur and Lucy. Mr. Mildew is more than a little absent minded.  The children must care for themselves. The family is poor and the house and its residents look shabby. It falls upon the shoulders of a loving mouse couple Tumtum and Nutmeg to become the children’s care givers. The mice live in their own home, Nutmouse Hall, behind a heavy dresser in the Mildew kitchen. Together they manage to repair the broken heater in the freezing attic room where the children sleep, mend the children’s ripped clothes and leave little treats for them. The children think they have a real fairy godmother named Nutmeg. A military mouse veteran, General Marchmouse, stirs up the action by getting himself and others into all kinds of trouble. In three separate books we meet rat pirates, nasty Aunt Ivy who dislikes the children, mouse ballerinas who learn to use pogo sticks, and gerbils doomed to destruction. Through cunning and bravery the mice overcome all obstacles. These gentle adventures will delight young readers. Price’s beautifully rendered drawings help readers visualize the detailed world of the tiny folk.

J Fiction.  Recommended- Lillian Hecker (Pelham)

October 19, 2009 at 10:19 pm Leave a comment


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