Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The

Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a 2010 Newbery Honor Book and the winner of the 2010 Bank Street - Josette Frank Award.


Reviewed: 2019-04-11

Calpurnia comes to life in Kelly's novel. The characters are accurate to their time period, sometimes painfully or infuriatingly so. When her parents discuss her future as a homemaker as though it is planned, or when she is made to study things that a lady ought instead of focusing her free time on scientific pursuits, I was at a loss, but in 1899, nothing less is to be expected. Though the plot is slow at times, her eldest brother's first love interest was an unnecessarily overlong element, it generally bustles along at an even pace. The connections that were made between scenes in Calpurnia's life and quotes from The Origin of Species were particularly well done. As they give the reader hints of what to expect in the coming pages, I found myself more curious and wanting to continue reading because of their inclusion. Though the over-arching theme is the coming-of-age of a young girl, I would also say that the theme of learning for learning's sake is another. No matter what product-of-its-time is put in Calpurnia's path; sewing, cooking, "deportment", she knows that she wants to study the world and she will fight to do so, in her own way. I was glad to find that stereotyping was not found in the pages, in its place was an obvious amount of research and grace in writing. My only qualm in the book was the wedging in of "a brand-new drink we'd all heard about, Coco-Cola." in the chapter that took place at the fair. The words dedicated to it seemed to come with a wink and a nudge that annoyed me. Ultimately though this book is first in a series, it does not leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, though there is room for the volume that follows.

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