|Photo courtesy of Macmillan
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is one of the most memorable characters to come along in children's literature in years. The only girl out of seven children, Callie Vee, as she is known, spends the sweltering days in her sleepy Texas town down by the river with her grandfather. With the story set in 1899, Callie Vee is expected to thrive in the domestic arts – needlework, cooking, playing the piano. Her mother has high expectations. But Callie would much rather be finding answers to questions about the world around her –about the grasshoppers on the lawn, about a mysterious plant, about a book called Origin of the Species. Callie finds an unexpected accomplice in Granddaddy, a naturalist, who happens to have his own copy of Charles Darwin's infamous book. As the year winds down, Granddaddy helps Calpurnia see how much their world is changing – and that new and exciting opportunities await her in the brand new century.
Question: You have a medical degree as well as a law degree, not to mention a Newbery honor under your belt as well. You must have an inquisitive mind and a passion for learning and doing. Is Calpurnia you?
Jacqueline Kelly: I either have an inquisitive mind or else I get bored easily and have to move on to something else. Yes, Calpurnia contains a lot of me. I would say she is about 60 percent me, about 30 percent my own mother, and about 10 percent various friends of mine. (I'm fortunate to have a funny mother who is nothing like the character of Mother in the book.)
Q: What inspired you to write the story of a girl coming of age in 1899?
JK: The entire book was inspired by a huge old Victorian farmhouse that I bought in the little town of Fentress many years ago. Maybe it's because we moved houses frequently when I was growing up, but I love old ancestral family houses and the sense of living history within them. I love looking at old photographs from a hundred years ago and thinking about what kind of lives the folks depicted in them must have lived.
JK: I fell in love with the house, which had sixteen foot ceilings and was flooded with light. It could have been in any little town in any state, and I would have reacted to it the same way.
JK: I want young girls to realize that it was not so long ago that they would not have had much to say about how they lived their lives, and how important it is that they guard their independence. I want them to know that their grandmother's grandmother didn't even get to vote. How quickly things changed for women in the twentieth century. Thank goodness!
JK: I practice medicine part-time, a few hours per week. A good writing day for me is 3-4 hours in the morning while I still have caffeine coursing through my veins. I wish I could write every day, but unfortunately I can't right at the moment. I hope this will happen in the future. I am working on a sequel to Calpurnia that is about Callie and her younger brother Travis. No idea yet when it will be published.