Skunked!: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Skunked!: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Laughs, science in new Callie series for younger readers.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While not as drenched in science, history, and social issues as the original Calpurnia Tate series, this younger-readers introduction of smart Callie, softhearted Travis, and the animal-related scrapes they get into still manages to include a lot of information about the habits of skunks. Also daily life in rural Texas at the turn of the 20th century. Callie's science-minded grandfather tells her how to brew a concoction of common household ingredients to de-stink a skunked dog -- and warns her that it will explode if kept in a jar. Some kids will find this too much to resist, so heads up and hide the peroxide.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about kindness, family, and using your abilities to help. Also much appreciation for science, learning, thinking, and asking questions, especially the way they can make life better for both people and animals.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Callie and her younger brother, Travis, don't always do the "right" thing, but usually do the kind one. Sure, they're often selective about telling the truth to adults, and perhaps not always the most obedient kids in Texas, but it's usually about protecting some young, vulnerable critter from an awful fate. Callie complains about Travis being too softhearted, but somehow she's always there to save the day. Or at least try.

Violence & Scariness

Adults have trapped and killed the mother of the baby skunks, and much of the plot involves protecting young Stinky and Winky from the same fate.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Skunked! is another hilarious, educational, kind-hearted and scrape-filled tale about characters first introduced in author Jacqueline Kelly's popular middle-grade Calpurnia Tate series -- but for younger readers just getting into chapter books. The first installment in a new series for this audience, it offers plentiful illustrations, hair-raising adventures, heartwarming moments, and also a bit of science (especially about skunks) and history (the story takes place in Texas at the turn of the 20th century). While  the original series includes some heavy stuff -- especially about the pure unfairness of not being taken seriously just because you're a girl -- the Girl Vet series takes 12-year-old Callie's brains and educational ambitions as a given. She gets plenty of opportunity to put them to use as her softhearted (and obviously beloved) younger brother, Travis, drags her into yet another of his animal-rescue schemes against her better judgment. The ensuing hijinks may lead to some interesting, age-appropriate discussions about loyalty, thinking for yourself, and  when it's best to do the wrong thing for the right reason. Or maybe vice versa.

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What's the story?

As SKUNKED! opens in rural Texas at the turn of the 20th century, 12-year-old Calpurnia Tate, only girl in a family of six boys, loves science and wants to grow up to be a vet. Her science-minded grandfather and the town veterinarian encourage her and teach her new things. Which is lucky, because her younger brother, Travis, never met a wild animal he didn't want to adopt, and somehow always gets Callie involved in his schemes. This time, softhearted Travis has really gone too far -- he's rescued  a pair of orphaned baby skunks. Note: This is not a new installment in the Calpurnia Tate series but the launch of a new early-reader series about the same characters.

Is it any good?

It's crazier than a pair of baby skunks in a one-room schoolhouse as Jacqueline Kelly brings Newbery Honor-winning heroine Calpurnia Tate to the early-reader set in a heartwarming, hilarious tale. Skunked! brings plenty of laughs and some age-appropriate science to the story of foundlings Stinky and Winky, their kindhearted 11-year-old rescuer Travis, and smart, spirited Callie, who has to do a lot of creative thinking and talking to keep them all out of trouble. Parental heads up: Callie's grandfather helpfully provides a recipe for a de-skunking concoction that will explode if kept in a jar. 

It's a fun read, about the equivalent length of a single chapter in the middle-grade books. Plentiful illustrations add to the fun.

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Calpurnia Tate stories, and why the author might have wanted to do some stories for younger kids. If you've read The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, how do you think Skunked! compares? Which do you like better? 

  • In Skunked! and elsewhere, Callie often complains about how Travis is too softhearted -- but somehow always ends up helping him out. Is she more softhearted than she lets on? Do you know anyone like that?

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  • Why is it not a good idea to keep wild animals as pets? Why do some people do it anyway?

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