The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

calpurnia tate

Calpurnia (Callie Vee for short) lives in central Texas with her well-to-do family.  It’s June 1899 and Callie Vee’s mother wants to teach her how to be a lady; baking biscuits, tatting lace, but instead Callie Vee is interested in the natural world.  One day she gets the courage to speak with the patriarch of the family, her Granddaddy Tate, a retired Confederate Captain and Cotton Gin owner.  Her grandfather has turned to science and the art of observation (and the making of whiskey from pecan shells) and Callie Vee has many questions.  After he gives her a copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species the two become fast friends.  It’s the summer and  Callie spends all her waking time with her grandfather.  He teaches her the scientific method and encourages her interests. When Callie and her grandfather discover an interesting plant, they submit it to the Smithsonian Institute.  Meanwhile, Callie’s mother is starting to notice that she is “lagging behind” in the home arts.  Her mother starts a campaign to bring her up to “domestic scratch”, much to Callie’s annoyance.  When summer ends and there is no news from the Smithsonian, Callie becomes discouraged that their hard work was a waste.  She goes back to school and her routine changes.  When fall leads to winter and the coming new century, Calpurnia Virginia Tate knows good things are in store.

 What an outstanding book.  I liked everything about it. The author starts every chapter with a quote from The Origin of Species.  Callie is a convincing character.  I loved her grandfather. He helped Callie become a well-educated young woman.  As the elder member of family, he is revered but no one ever talks to him.  When Callie gets to know him, she begins to understand him and really love him.  I love that part of the book.   The language was spectacular and the manner in which Callie learns to observe nature was inspiring.  I thought the disparity between males and females in that time period was a little heavy handed; but a realistic portrayal of the times.  This was an excellent read!

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jackqueline Kelly is 350 pages and is for Grades 4 – 7. I liked it immensley.


About SH

I'm a children's librarian in the western suburbs of Chicago. I've been involved with children's literature since working in a children's bookstore in 1990.
This entry was posted in 48 hour reading challenge 2009, Family relationships, gentle read, historical fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

  1. Doret says:

    Jen Robinson’s read the same book first. I didn’t enter the challenge, so I am making myself the comment bandit. Good Luck.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: June 13, 2009 at Semicolon

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