Sunday, December 9, 2018

Middle Grade Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Publication Info: Henry Holt & Co., 2009. 344 pages.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb:
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.
My Review:
I liked this book a lot. The title character is someone I can relate to--more interested in science and exploring her world than in learning the domestic arts and how to become a lady (I would like to point out to her that since we all have to eat, learning to cook is a good idea. I would like to point out to her mother that males have to eat, too, and her sons should learn to cook as well, but--that was 1899).
The book is half standard coming-of-age (ouch. I mis-typed that as "coming-of-cage," which is particularly resonant of the life Callie's mother has planned for her) and half a book about the fascination of science. What Callie and her grandfather learn and discover is less important than the search and discovery themselves. Callie learns about the scientific method, but also about the importance of being careful and accurate, including when thinking about your own feelings.

The author has a good touch--serious where it needs to be, light overall (love the accounts of the piano recital and the county fair!). The setting and characters are well-rendered, and the editing is good.
I picked this up because it was mentioned in a discussion of middle-grade books where girls are doing science. I think it's a great read for encouraging girls, as well as just a good fun read. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, and learning more about what Callie does, as this one does leave us a bit up in the air in some ways.
My Recommendation:
Check it out.

Full Disclosure: I borrowed an electronic copy of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate from my library, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."  


  1. Okay, I might check it out. It sounds really good, except for the coming-of-age bit. ;)

    1. Well, I like the way she's growing up, and having to fight against the expectations of society is part of the challenge if she wants to be a scientist, right?

  2. Sounds like a great book my daughter would have loved as a kid. She's always been into science.

    1. I hope there will be lots of girls interested, because the gods know we need more women in science.


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