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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Paperback – January 4, 2011

207 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Calpurnia Tate Series

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 5–8—A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of The Origin of Species and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie's mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather's influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie's confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother's despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie's heartache over receiving The Science of Housewifery as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie's future, but there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899, 12-year-old Callie realizes that her aversion to needlework and cooking disappoints her mother. Still, she prefers to spend her time exploring the river, observing animals, and keeping notes on what she sees. Callie’s growing interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather, an amateur naturalist of some distinction. After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, though really the main story here is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. By the end, she is equally aware of her growing desire to become a scientist and of societal expectations that make her dream seem nearly impossible. Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family—the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings—all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel. Grades 4-7. --Carolyn Phelan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 830L (What's this?)
  • Series: Calpurnia Tate
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Square Fish; Reprint edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031265930X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312659301
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jacqueline Kelly was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada. She is a practicing physician and now makes her home in Austin and Fentress, Texas. This is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Dobrez on May 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There is so much to love about this book. I finished it days ago but can't stop thinking about Calpurnia and her family. The writing is gorgeous. Small gems are everywhere. When Calpurnia finds an old hummingbird nest, "fragile and expertly woven, smaller than an eggcup" her grandfather tells her to treasure it, she may never find another one in her whole life. Calpurnia examines it, thinking:

"The nest was the most intricately constructed thing, like something built by the fairies in my childhood tales. I almost said so aloud but caught myself in time. Members of the scientific community did not say such things."

I'm a sucker for intergenerational tales and Calpurnia and her grandfather are my new favorite pair. He might be the teacher figure, but he learns as much from his granddaughter as she from him. It's fun watching his enthusiasm with the new technologies like the telephone (just one in town but it creates quite a stir) and his lusting after an automobile. The large family and assorted other secondary characters are delightfully realized. Each chapter starts with a quote from Darwin that complements the evolution of the Tate family. Callie Vee and grandpa make me think I should start carrying a scientific notebook everywhere with me, and spend a little more time with my nose out of a book and looking carefully at the wonders around me.

You can read the rest of Lynn Rutan's and my review on our children's lit blog at [...] (use the search box at the top of the page to search "Calpurnia" to get right to the review)
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The spunky girl heroine. She's an enduring character in our middle grade fiction. From 1928's The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry to Caddie Woodlawn and Roller Skates, historical fiction and so-called tomboys go together like cereal and milk. It would be tempting then to view The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate as just one more in a long line of spunkified womenfolk. True and not true. Certainly Calpurnia chaffs against the restrictions of her time, but debut novelist Jacqueline Kelly has given us an intriguing, even mesmerizing glimpse into the mind of a girl who has the one thing her era won't allow: ambition.

It's 1899 and eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate is the sole and single girl child in a family full of six brothers. She is generally ignored until one day she asks her grandfather a question: Where did the huge yellow grasshoppers that appeared during the unusually hot summer come from? Grandfather, an imposing figure the children usually avoid, merely says that he's sure she'll figure it out on her own. Only when she does exactly that does he begin to take an interest in her. Before long Calpurnia finds herself a naturalist in the making. Grandfather teaches her about evolution and the natural world, which is wonderful, but it's really not the kind of thing a girl of her age and era would learn. Between adventures involving her brothers, her friends, and a whole new species of plant, Calpurnia must come to terms with what she is and what the world expects her to be. Ms.
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76 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Julie S. Schechter on May 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I loved everything about this book. It was a wonderful story of a smart, resourceful 11-year old girl with a passion for scientific exploration and discovery in a time and place when girls just weren't allowed to be interested in those things. The book was beautifully written--the details and choices of words, down to the names of Callie's brothers and the family's dogs were perfectly fitting. Callie's relationships with her grandfather, brothers and other family and friends were richly described. This book was touching and funny--I laughed out loud throughout the time I enjoyed the book. I plan to recommend this to my book club (all adults) as well as to my teenage girls, though I think girls of all ages would love it.
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By AMM on October 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is a sweet tale that will encourage kids to observe and analyze the world around them. I don't recommend it for children younger than 10-12 though--for one thing, the central theme is of a girl coming of age and her story will resonate most (and be most useful to) older girls. In addition, there are some passages that will be disturbing to younger kids--graphic (and gruesome) descriptions of Civil War battlefields and a description of a woman being pitchforked to death by her husband when he finds out she is a fraction black but passing as white, for example. Yes, kids need to know about these things, and certainly younger kids need to know about racism, but in my opinion the level of detail about it in this book (and in the discussions your kids will hopefully want to have about it) is for junior high at the earliest. At that age, I think this book would be good.

It is a well-written, interesting, good story but didn't blow me away as it seems to have other reviewers. Maybe in a couple of years when my kids are older I'll feel differently--for now, we're loving The Penderwicks and Ruby Lavender.
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