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My rating: 5 of 5 stars
While I could enumerate the ways in which this book is technically excellent – the language, the character development, the setting, etc. etc., I would rather just gush. Despite having little in common with Calpurnia, I found her extremely satisfying as a character. You share in her triumphs, you feel her pains, you feel the Texas heat and the deliciousness of unmarred snow. You love Granddaddy as much as she does, you want to go for a swim in the river (even though you’re afraid of the microorganisms after seeing them under the microscope), and your knitted socks turn out lumpy. There’s a pleasant old-fashionedness to the story, for those of us who like those things, but Calpurnia’s got the oomph to make this book appealing to kids with more modern sensibilities and a love of the natural world. I didn’t want it to end – in fact, I couldn’t started right over again from the beginning. If this book doesn’t win some sort of award this year, I just might cry. It’s a keeper.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This story succeeds in bringing to life the court of the Byzantine emperor in the 11th century – a setting that I don’t think I’ve encountered before, particularly in a children’s book. You get the sense that Barrett knows her history well, and she’s chosen a character and period that seem rich and fascinating. Instead of playing Anna as a sympathetic every-girl, Barrett shows her as someone truly born to the purple, taught to rule from an early and keenly aware of what is her due. While this was refreshing and rang of historical accuracy, I never quite connected to the story in any way – I would’ve liked something a bit more in-depth, maybe. Still, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the period, or anyone looking for historical fiction taking place outside of western Europe.
I forgot to note, in my Goodreads review, that the book has a pleasantly in-depth author’s note in terms of what she fictionalized and what is true. Also, I think the cover is pretty fab and has held up well in the 10 years since it was published. I couldn’t help but wish, though, as the book highlighted differences between succession and rule in the East versus the West, that it had also played up some of the religious differences. Apart from a few mentions of hymns (in that wonderfully familiar style), the religious characters and the convent where Anna is sent could have just as easily been (disappointingly) Western. Bah.