Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2009.
Newbery Honor 2010
Little does Callie know that 1899 is her last summer of freedom. Busy with their own affairs, the rest of the family doesn't pay much attention to her odd behavior, her comings and goings, granted that might be because she does a fair bit of sneaking around. Her observations of nature during her jaunts to the river to cool off are the start of a new relationship with her grandfather, a grandfather everyone avoids for his grouchiness and contrariness. She tries to view a controversial book at the library, the librarian harasses her about the immorality of the book, and then she learns her grandfather has a cherished copy under lock and key. This is the moment she is invited into his inner sanctum, and her interest spurs him to guide the broadening of her education in their small Texas town. The book is The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.
When she starts school again, Callie's friendship with her grandfather is well underway, but her mother and teacher conspire to force her education in the womanly arts - sewing, cooking, demeanor, etc. Given the time period, there is only so much the grandfather can do to balance this burden being heaped upon her. Her time is being consumed by things she abhors, things she can't do well and doesn't want to do well. It undermines her belief in her friendship with her grandfather, and she is afraid then that her dreams are beyond her reach as a female. She already knows that she doesn't fit in, but it was a special thing to have her grandfather's admiration and encouragement.
This is a wonderful detailed account of small town life on the verge of the twentieth century. Even more it is a day-to-day description of the girl's observations, natural and social, and progress regarding her scientific learning. Callie and her family's excitement to learn about inventions such as wind machines (fans), automobiles, and telephone operation, and Callie's reaction to molecules under a microscope are an enjoyable experience from the 21st century perspective.
I love the book! My reading experience was similar to when I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Coincidentally, The Origin of Species was a part of that book also, but my enjoyment had to do with the quality of the writing. The details are superb, as well as the enjoyment of everyday exploration. Darwin's book is not the central part of either book, but it does play a role in the education of the children, namely education through observation of life and thinking about those observations.
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