The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Captain’s Log:

Cover of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Module 10

Port of Call: Kelly, J. (2009). The evolution of calpurnia tate. New York, NY: Henry Holt.

First Lines: By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. We arose in the dark, hours before sunrise, when there was barely a smudge of indigo along the eastern sky and the rest of the horizon was pure pitch. We lit our kerosene lamps and carried them before us in the dark like our own tiny wavering suns.

Summary: Calpurnia Tate is the only girl in a large, well-to-do Texas family. She has an interest in Nature and forms a friendship with her grandfather whom she discovers to be an avid naturalist and experimenter. Calpurnia wishes to learn more about the sciences but struggles against her parents expectations for her as a young lady coming into puberty at a time when women were expected to stay in the home. This is a story about a girl discovering her identity and desires and her attempts to merge those desires with her existing social responsibilities and roles.

First Impressions: I found Calpurnia to be an engaging and open character, with an inquisitive mind and active imagination. I enjoyed watching her grow throughout the story and wish there was a sequel to continue Calpurnia’s journey to womanhood.

Suggestions for use: This can be seen as an empowering book for girls interested in science, and is also a good read for those wishing for some American historical fiction.

Reviews:

BookList: “Gr. 4-7 /*Starred Review*/ Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899, 12-year-old Callie realizes that her aversion to needlework and cooking disappoints her mother. Still, she prefers to spend her time exploring the river, observing animals, and keeping notes on what she sees. Callie’s growing interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather, an amateur naturalist of some distinction. After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, though really the main story here is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. By the end, she is equally aware of her growing desire to become a scientist and of societal expectations that make her dream seem nearly impossible. Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family—the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings—all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel.”

Phelan, C. (2009). The evolution of calpurnia tate. BookList, 105(17), 80.

School Library Journal: “/* Starred Review */ Gr 5–8— A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of The Origin of Species and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie’s mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather’s influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie’s confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother’s despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie’s heartache over receiving The Science of Housewifery as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie’s future, but there’s no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly’s debut novel”

Schultz, J. (2009). The evolution of calpurnia tate. School Library Journal, 55(5), 110.

Manjiro by Emily Arnold McCully

Cover of Manjiro

Captain’s Log:

Module 12

Port of Call: Arnold McCully, E. (2008). Manjiro: the boy who risked his life for two countries. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.

First Lines: No Japanese ship or boat… nor any native of Japan, shall presume to go out of the country; whoso acts contrary to this shall die.

Summary: This story is a biography of one of the few Japanese citizens to travel to the United States during the Tokugawa Shogunate’s period of inforced isolationism. Manjiro is a fisherman, and a boy, who is stranded on an island with several other men when their ship is caught in a storm. After some time, they are rescued by a U.S. whaling vessel and taken back to the states. The story details Manjiro’s travels through a foreing culture, his experiences as he finds a place for himself in America, and eventually his return to Japan at the risk of his life.

First Impressions: I’ve had a long-time interest in Japanese culture and yet I had never heard the story of Manjiro. Beautiful full-page pastel illustrations follow the storyline closely and display historical scenes from both the U.S. and Japan.

Suggestions for use: The story of Manjiro is one about overcoming unexpected circumstance, finding new ways to live and learn, and of the power of ‘home’ and belonging. I would use this story to teach about living in another country, or surviving in the face of adversity.

Illustration from Manjiro

Reviews:

School Library Journal:  “Gr 3–6— A fascinating episode from Japanese history, related in an oversize picture-book format. In 1841, while 14-year-old Manjiro and four men were fishing, their small boat was destroyed in a storm, and they were cast away on a tiny island for almost six months. Though they survived a drought and an earthquake, they feared for their lives. “For over two and a half centuries Japan had been closed to the outside world. Anyone who tried to return after leaving the country could be put to death.” They were finally rescued by a New England whaling ship. At journey’s end, Captain Whitfield took Manjiro home to New Bedford, MA. Whitfield married and bought a farm where the boy learned to plant, cultivate, harvest, and ride a horse—a skill reserved for samurai in Japan. Despite increasing homesickness, he attended school and graduated at the top of his class. In 1849, the California gold rush lured him to San Francisco where he collected $600 in gold dust in 70 days. Finally, after a nine-year absence, he headed back to Japan with two of the original castaways. When they arrived, government officials jailed and questioned them for seven months. He told them of America’s desire to trade and of railroads, telegraphs, drawbridges, and wristwatches. At last, he became an honored samurai. An author’s note gives background on Japan’s 250-year isolationist policy and how one curious, determined boy opened the door to the Western world. McCully’s realistic watercolors are striking against white backgrounds and show the contrast between traditional Japanese and 19th-century New Englanders as well as the tumultuous seas and perils of a fishing life. An exciting account of a pivotal period in U.S.-Japanese history.”

Auerbach, B. (2008). Manjiro. School Library Journal, 54(10), 134.

Kirkus:  “In this incredible true story, a poor Japanese boy, through fate and enterprise, bridges the cultural gap between Japan and America at a time when Japan was isolated from the world. In 1841, 14-year-old Manjiro and four other fishermen became castaways on a desert island for six months until rescued by an American whaling ship. The resourceful, adaptable Manjiro soon became Captain Whitfield’s favorite, eventually returning to Fairhaven, Mass., where Whitfield educated and mentored him. Initially regarded as a foreigner, the enterprising Manjiro became a popular, respected member of the community, but never forgot his family in Japan. He subsequently worked on a whaling ship and in the California gold rush to save enough money to return to his native land, where he was instrumental in teaching Japan about America. The historically rich text and the realistic watercolor illustrations capture Manjiro’s life and times—both in Japan and New England—making this a first-rate introduction to a relatively unknown young figure in Japanese-American relations. (author’s note, map, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-11)”

Manjiro. (2008, September 1). Kirkus Reviews.

Golem by David Wisniewski

Captain’s Log: Module 3

Port of Call: Wisniewski, D. (1996). Golem. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

First Lines: Within the beautiful city of Prague, fierce hatreds have raged for a thousand years. People of differing beliefs in God and nation have clashed violently here: Czech against German, Protestant against Catholic, Christian against Jew.

The cover of Golem

Summary:

During a time when the Prague Jews are being persecuted by others a Jewish rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel is searching for a way to bring relief to his people. He is given a dream in which a hand appears and writes the word ‘GOLEM’, a creature made from clay and brought to life with mystical Jewish words. Seeing this as a sign of an answer from God, Rabbi Loew sets out to make such a creature. He successfully brings the golem to life and charges it with protecting the Jews of the city from those who want to harm them. The golem is incredibly good at this task, and fiercely defends the Jews and destroys the attacking enemies. However, the golem is also a tragic figure, wistfully he just wants to watch the sunrise, and when the Jews are safe and the Rabbi prepares to disable the spell keeping the golem alive, the golem does not want to be turned back into clay. Nonetheless, he is dismantled with the promise that he will be brought back when the Jews need him once more.

First Impressions: Immediately I liked the heavy and dramatic illustration style of Golem. I also found the story to be intriguing as I had heard stories related to the myth of golems in other books. I did find parts of the book to be a bit scary or even depressing, so I wouldn’t recommend this book for very young children.

Other notes: The end of the book has a very informative section on the historical information this book was based on. This is a great resource for parents and children alike who want more information about the scenario described in Golem.

Suggestions for use: In addition to being a historical story, this book can also teach about the preciousness of life, the benefits and detriments of using another being as a ‘protector’, and the responsibility we have for the people in our care and our creations. This story could easily be a cautionary tale for anyone being persecuted or persecuting others.

Reviews:

Publishers Weekly:

“Elaborately composed cut-paper spreads give a 3D, puppet-show-like quality to a retelling of a Jewish legend. Rabbi Loew has a prophetic vision in 1580 when the Jews of Prague are accused of mixing the blood of Christian children into matzoh: he must create a Golem, “a giant of living clay, animated by Cabala, mystical teachings of unknown power.” Brought to life with apocalyptic explosions of steam and rain, the Golem seeks out the perpetrators of the Blood Lie and turns them over to the authorities. Thwarted, the enraged enemies of the Jews storm the gates of the ghetto, but the Golem grows to enormous height and violently defeats them with their own battering ram. Once his work is done, he pitifully (and futilely) begs the Rabbi: “Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so… precious… to me!” Wisniewski (The Wave of the Sea Wolf) emphasizes the Golem’s humanity and the problems with his existence; instead of reducing the legend to a tale of a magical rescuer, the author allows for its historical and emotional complexity. The fiery, crisply layered paper illustrations, portraying with equal drama and precision the ornamental architecture of Prague and the unearthly career of the Golem, match the specificity and splendor of the storytelling. An endnote about the history and influence of the legend is particularly comprehensive. Ages 6-10. ”

Publishers Weekly (2006) Review of Golem retrieved September 9th, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/Golem-Caldecott-Medal-David-Wisniewski/dp/0395726182.

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

Captain’s Log: Module 2

Port of Call: Taylor, S. (1951). All of a Kind family. New York, NY: Follett Publishing Company.

First Lines:

“That slowpoke Sarah!” Henny cried. “She’s making us late!”

Mama’s girls were going to the library, and Henny was impatient.

“If it was Charlotte, I could understand,” said Ella, who was the eldest and very serious. “I’d know Charlotte was off dreaming in some corner. But what can be keeping Sarah?”

Summary: This is a story about a young Jewish family living in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. Each chapter tells about a different adventure or even that happens in the lives of these five little girls, but there is also an overarching continuity that moves the story line through the book. In one chapter, the girls go to the beach to escape the summer heat and one gets separated from her family in the crowd. Another story talks about the girls’ trip to the library and the friendship they strike up with the new librarian there.

A family, father, mother, and five young girls are walking down a street in New York City, 1912.

Cover of All-of-a-Kind Family

My favorite chapters were the ones about the Jewish traditions the family celebrates in their homes. I do no know very much about these holidays and customs, so I thought they were a fascinating insight to that religious culture. We meet characters from outside the family too, Papa’s friends, particularly a young man named Charlie who brings the girls gifts frequently.

This was a very sweet book, and its 1950’s writing style lends the book a laid-back, homey feel of a century past. I was reminded of the Bobbsey Twins books I read as a child and enjoyed very much. For being a bit dated, it was never hard to read, and I think it was a very easy book to get wrapped up in.

First Impressions: I was not drawn in by the cover, but thought the setting looked historical and so I would give it a try. The first chapter didn’t really have much action, but was interesting enough that I decided to keep reading. Truthfully, I don’t think this book really hits its stride until chapter 3 or so. I think it’s because the first two chapters seem to have been written solely to introduce certain characters, but the real story doesn’t start rolling til later.

Suggestions for use: I would use this book to teach about an older era in American history, especially if children are interested in life at the beginning of the 1900’s or early New York City. It’s also a more ‘traditional’ story that might appeal to young girls who like Little House on the Prairie and other period books. Finally, this would be a story that could teach about Jewish holidays and traditions to both Jewish and non-Jewish children alike.

Reviews: (audiobook version)

School Library Journal:

“Gr 3-6-Five young sisters experience life in New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century in this reading of Sydney Taylor’s story (Follett, 1951). The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores, missing library books, and trips to the Rivington Street market, as well as those details which bring the early 1900’s to life–scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island. Woven into the story are the traditions and holidays of the Jewish religion. The girls celebrate the Sabbath with Hebrew prayers, and dress up for Purim so they can deliver baskets to friends and relatives. Suzanne Toren delivers flawless narration, using different accents to distinguish between characters of various cultures and backgrounds. Her intonations and pacing ably reflect the actions and emotions of the characters and fully convey the warmth and humor of the story. This excellent audiobook will find an eager audience in schools and public libraries which need materials reflecting the Jewish culture or serve children who enjoy family stories such as Little Women and Little House on the Prairie.” -Paula L. Setser, Deep Springs Elementary School, Lexington, KY

Setser, P. (2001) School Library Journal review of All-of-a-Kind Family. Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://www.amazon.com/All-Kind-Family-Sydney-Taylor/dp/0385732953.

The Providence Journal:

“Here’s a book in which nothing much happens, over the course of four hours… and which absolutely charmed my kids on a recent family car trip.

It’s the story of a family on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century. There are five daughters, plus Mama and Papa, and their adventures are simple — they go to Coney Island on a hot day, or to the library or to the market. They dust the house and get sick.

But the market they go to is alive with sounds and smells of a different time, and when scarlet fever strikes there’s no simple trip to the doctor’s for a few antibiotics —the doctor comes to them and places the house under quarantine for weeks. There’s a plot involving two family friends and their problems with love, but it’s the least believable and sappiest part of the story. Much better are the moments when the family celebrates Jewish holidays, each described with loving care as it was celebrated a century ago.

Taylor wrote the book in 1951, based on her childhood memories and it was out of print for some years before being issued last year. The time between her experiences and the recounting of them undoubtedly colored the stories with sentimentality.

But this is a gentle tale of a very different time, and there’s value to that. Toren, a theater and TV actress, reads with an attention to accent that helps create characters from the daughters and those who surround them.” – Retrieved September 6, 2010 from http://search.barnesandnoble.com/All-of-A-Kind-Family/Sydney-Taylor/e/9780440400592