It’s 1899. Calpurnia is 11 years old and lives in Texas with her six (six!) brothers – three older and three younger. On her report card, Calpurnia gets an “acceptable” grade for “Posture” and an “unsatisfactory” grade for “Use of Hankie and Thimble”. Her Mother is not pleased! Can you imagine having “Use of a Hankie” as a school subject? (A hankie is a square piece of cloth they used in the old days to wipe their eyes or nose – no kleenex back then.)
Calpurnia isn’t the least bit interested in what is known as “woman’s work.” She doesn’t want to cook and sew and knit – she wants to run and swim and explore everything that lives in the woods and river near her house. She likes to study bugs. The dirtier Calpurnia gets, the happier she is.
After observing some curious grasshoppers in her yard, Calpurnia has some questions. Why are some of the grasshoppers large, yellow and slow, and some of the grasshoppers small, green and quick? And why is it that the smaller quick ones are easier to catch? No one is able to answer her questions, in fact, her family seems completely uninterested.
Calpurnia gets up the courage to ask her Granddaddy, a man who lives in the family house but hardly speaks a word to anyone. He shows up for meals and then disappears: out in the woods to collect specimens, into his library or out to his backyard shed/laboratory. Nobody in the family is quite sure what he is up to, but everybody knows to stay out of his way. Except Calpurnia. She steps into the shed to ask her question and a friendship is born. After 11 years of thinking that she is an oddball, Calpurnia finds a kindred spirit in her quiet, cantankerous Granddaddy who shows her that being a girl who loves books and science is OK.
If you have ever wanted something different than you think is expected of you, or if you have ever felt uninterested in the same things as the people around you, maybe you and Calpurnia are kindred spirits too. Sometimes blazing your own way can be pretty exciting. Author: Jacqueline Kelly
- Read Chapter One The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
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Look at this actual 1881 Report Card for Bettie Naper. (Click on the image to make it larger. Notice she gets graded in writing, reading, history, spelling, etc. but doesn’t take any science classes at all. Very common for a girls like Bettie and Calpurnia in the late 1800s.)
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