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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly has come out with a historical fiction book about an 11-year-old girl who discovers her passion for science. Published in 2009 by Scholastic Inc., The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a funny, relatable, and captivating story that I think you will enjoy.



In this novel, Calpurnia Tate, also known as Callie Vee, grows up during the very end of the 19th century in Fentress, Texas. Being the only daughter of seven children, her mother has high hopes for her becoming a fine young lady. However, Calpurnia has other plans when she finds her love and interest for science. Her scientific journey begins when her beloved brother Harry gives her a blank notebook for her observations and questions about science. “You can use it to write down your scientific observations. You’re regular naturalist in the making” (8). Calpurnia creates a strong bond with her Granddaddy, who helps her explore deeper in science. She gets to know her Granddaddy a lot more after living with him, basically in silence, for the past 11 years. She finds out that her Granddaddy loves science as well, and not only that, but her Granddaddy personally knows the great scientist Charles Darwin himself. A good chunk of her 1899 summer is spent with her Granddaddy collecting specimens and excitingly discovers a new species of plant! From thinking that her Granddaddy doesn’t even know her name to spending hours and hours taking walks and talking in the forest, Calpurnia grows to love him. I think you will enjoy reading about a beautiful bond and friendship that forms between grandfather and granddaughter.

In this novel, Calpurnia’s relationship with her mother is another thing you will be able to relate easily to. As Calpurnia is enjoying keeping herself busy with science, her mother is not enjoying it so much and steps in to change things. She doesn’t like Calpurnia spending too much time with her Granddaddy learning and exploring the scientific world. Her mother even says to her father, “Your father (Granddaddy) feeds her a steady diet of Dickens and Darwin. Access to too many books like those can build disaffection in one girl’s life. Especially a young life. Most especially a young girl’s life.” (219). This shows us that her mother is truly worried about her only daughter’s future and forces Calpurnia to learn how to cook and sew like a woman should. She finds herself not very good at these kinds of things. One time when she tries to peel an apple, she ends of slicing her thumb open. Another time for a sewing competition, she won third place… out of three competitors. Unlike her best friend Lula, Calpurnia prefers to collect insects rather than to make socks, read books about discoveries rather than books about sewing, and to observe the food chain rather than cooking food. However, Calpurnia has no choice but to do this if she wants to continue in her hopes and dreams of science. Throughout the book, Calpurnia struggles to keep her mother pleased as well as her scientific dreams alive.


This book is written in the first-person voice of Calpurnia herself. She has a way of talking and telling that is familiar and friendly to teenagers. I enjoyed her sense of humor when she speaks of her family and their crazy antics. She describes events so well that we readers can feel like we are right there with them. I especially loved her uses of similes. “My brother made exclamations of appreciation. They all fell on their portions like hungry dogs,” (229). Calpurnia also seems to be asking herself lots of questions. “Who cared about this stuff? Where is my place in the world? When can humans understand time? Why do dogs have eyebrows? Do caterpillars come as male and female?” This shows us that Calpurnia has a lot of processing going on- both scientifically and personally. Readers will have the chance to explore her inner thoughts and even her emotions.


A theme explored in this book revolves around the one question Calpurnia is most concerned about: “Where is my place in the world?” (280). She is confused and is trying to figure out what she can contribute to the world. I think this question challenges everybody in the world, even grown-ups. This book takes place in a time where it was strange and different for a woman to have a job such as a scientist. I think Calpurnia teaches us to follow our dreams, follow what we really love to do. You especially will be glad to read someone’s personal journey in finding who they are and who they will be. Calpurnia goes on a mind-challenging quest as she evolves to the young woman she wants to be.


In conclusion, I absolutely loved the book. Every sentence of the story was well written, thoroughly thought out, and descriptive. You will really enjoy this book because of the captivating words, stories, emotions, and characters. I think that girls will enjoy it more than the boys because they will find it easier to relate to. I think this is because girls will know what it feels like to have their mother worry and nag them all the time about being proper like a lady, when boys don’t experience that. If you enjoy science, then you will also find the story fascinating as it is filled with topics and questions of it. I strongly encourage you to go out, take the time to read Jacqueline Kelly’s fine story about a girl and her evolution to becoming who she wants to be.




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