The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly


It is 1899 and Calpurnia Virginia Tate is braving the Texas summer heat to become a “naturalist” even if young ladies don’t normally do such things. She is fascinated by nature and all of the moving and chirping creatures around her. As the only girl amongst 6 brothers she often wonders why expectations are different for her. She is not interested in knitting, cooking, and housekeeping but wants to romp around outside discovering the next big science thing. Her previously reclusive grandfather takes her under his wing and challenges her to make observations, ask questions, and then answer those questions. In her little red notebook pond water comes to life and a fat hairy caterpillar turns into a large fluttering moth.

At the introduction of each chapter Jacqueline Kelly includes a brief snippet from Darwin’s The Origin of Species which is the book that Calpurnia is reading. Overall the book was enjoyable but as a novel set in 1899 I didn’t always have that historical feeling. I didn’t really believe it was 1899. Mind you, I have no idea what 1899 in Texas looked and smelled like.

The world according to Callie Vee:

    My mother had got one girl out of seven tries at it. I guess I wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind, a dainty daughter to help her bail against the rising tide of the rough-and-tumble boyish energy that always threatened to engulf the house. It hadn’t occurred to me that she’d been hoping for an ally and then didn’t get one. So I didn’t like to talk patterns and recipes and pour tea in the parlor. Did that make me selfish or odd? Worst of all, did it make me a disappointment?

    Now fainting. That’s a subject I’d always wondered about. The heroines in books seemed to faint a lot, swaying genteelly onto a handy padded couch or into the convenient arms of some concerned suitor. These heroines were always willowy and managed to land in graceful postures of repose, and were revived with the merest passing of a decorated flagon of smelling salts under their noses. I, on the other hand, apparently went over like a felled ox and was lucky to land on the grass and avoid cracking my head open.

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2 responses to “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

  • Aarti

    I have had this book on my wish list for a long time, but now I think i’ll try to find it in the library or borrow it from some other means. It has such a sweet cover and Calpurnia herself sounds like a great character. It’s unfortunate about the lack of authenticity in the setting.

    • LeaningSun

      It was pretty good but def borrow from the library before you buy! The cover and Calpurnia’s personality were the main things that attracted me to it.

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