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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by…

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

by Jacqueline Kelly

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1,6131614,504 (4.11)73
  1. 20
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (foggidawn)
  2. 20
    The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (stevedore)
    stevedore: Similar light-hearted quirky characters and lack of dramatic tension.
  3. 00
    Deadly by Julie Chibbaro (kaledrina)
  4. 00
    The Danger Box by Blue Balliett (keeneam)
    keeneam: Also deals with Darwin at the present time rather than the past.
  5. 00
    Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth by Sandra Dutton (kaledrina)
    kaledrina: Calpurnia is a little more of a difficult read than Mary Mae, but both girls deal with similar issues.
  6. 00
    Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (kaledrina)

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Showing 1-5 of 151 (next | show all)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly takes place in the last year of the nineteenth century in Fentress, Texas. Calpurnia Tate is the only daughter in a large family where the boys have been named for Confederate heroes. Her mother wants desperately to get her ready for her debut but Calpurnia wants nothing more than to spend time with her grandfather, exploring the natural world.

Calpurnia is the first grandchild to take any interest in the grandfather's experiments. He is a naturalist and a devotee of Charles Darwin, stuck in a place where that sort of thinking is alien and dangerous. But he's an old man and a respected war hero, so he is given space to do his own thing. When he takes Calpurnia under his wing, people start to notice.

In the middle of all of this, Calpurnia and he make a discovery, a new type of hairy vetch that they can't find in any of their botany books. Much of the drama of the back half of the book is drawn up in the waiting for an answer. Is this hairy vetch something new or not?

Though the strong feminist message is the main point of the book, I got caught up in the vetch plot. Like Calpurnia, I love nothing more than exploring the nature around me. She had her creek and I have mine: Sulphur, San Lorenzo, Dry and Alameda. And along, grows a beautiful pink and purple flower, which, thanks now to Calpurnia, I know is a type of vetch. I haven't though found any new species — but that's not my thing. Mine is photography. ( )
  pussreboots | Feb 3, 2015 |
I loved Calpurnia's character in this story. She is strong and challenges societal norms constantly. It is a large burden for her as she is her mother's only daughter and her mother would like for her to be the picture of perfection. Calpurnia has no interest in playing piano, knitting or cooking. Her interests lie in the natural world with her Grandfather who introduces her to Darwin's Theory of Evolution. These ideals were not really proper for a young woman at that time and her strength to stay true to herself is inspiring.
  InstantLaila | Dec 6, 2014 |
Set on a Texas Plantation in 1899. A young girl works through theories of the natural world with her grandfather, learns about Darwin and discovers a new species along the way.
  sacnate | Sep 14, 2014 |
It's 1899, and almost-12-year-old Calpurnia Virginia ("Callie Vee") Tate is growing up as the middle of seven children (and only daughter) of a wealthy cotton and pecan farmer and gin owner in Fentress, Texas.  She's a bit of a tomboy, and would rather accompany her retired grandfather on his expeditions to study plants and wildlife than learn to play the piano, cook, or sew, all expected of a girl of that age and time.  She even helps her grandfather in his experiments to make an alcoholic beverage with pecans, and in identifying what they hope is a new species of vetch, a common plant in Texas.

The book starts in the summer of 1899 and ends as 1900 begins.  The reader experiences everyday life with Callie's large and active family, as well as special occasions such as holidays, the county fair and a trip into town for a photograph.  These feel authentic to the time period.

This book was a Newbery Honor Book in 2010 (for the "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,") and I can see why.  I loved it!  The developing relationship with her previously-remote grandfather is wonderful.  I found it amusing that five of Callie's six brothers are named for early Texas heroes--Sam Houston, (Mirabeau) Lamar, (William B.) Travis, Sul Ross, and Jim Bowie--and she has interesting (and funny!) interactions with most of them, particularly her oldest brother Harry (named for a rich bachelor great uncle).  Even her exasperated mother and the overworked family cook, Viola, are rendered vividly.

I also liked the emphasis on the scientific method (particularly recording your observations), and the way debut author Jacqueline Kelly worked new inventions into the story - the telephone, the automobile, and even an early motorized fan (much appreciated in the Texas heat!).  I felt she did a fine job with the Texas setting.  Born in New Zealand, growing up in the rain forest of western Canada, moving to El Paso, Texas, in high school, and later living in Galveston, Austin, and Fentress, she seems to have a true appreciation for my home state, and got a lot of details right, adding to the story.  In a 2009 interview on Cynsations, Kelly said,

"The book was inspired by my huge 140-year-old Victorian farm house in Fentress, a tiny community on the San Marcos River. I bought the house some years ago and promptly ran out of money to fix it up. The house is grand but falling down around my ears. One summer, I was lying on the daybed in the living room under the ancient air conditioner, which was barely cooling the room, and I thought to myself, how did people stand it in the heat a hundred years ago, especially the women, who had to wear corsets and all those layers of clothing? And with that thought, Calpurnia and her whole family sprang to life to answer the question for me."

Sadly, "the house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground" in 2010, according to Kelly in a later interview, which could have something to do with why a planned sequel hasn't materialized.

The language in this book is beautiful.  The descriptions of the natural world are detailed and evocative.  In the Cynsations interview, Kelly (who has both medical--which may explain those descriptions--and law degrees) said,

"A friend of mine, a very successful trial attorney, once said, 'Every lawyer I know has got a novel hidden away in his laptop somewhere.' I think it's because we all love language, and using it to convey precise ideas. Or maybe it's because so many lawyers were English majors who couldn't then figure out what to do with their degrees."

Kelly begins each chapter with a quote from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, which Calpurnia's grandfather gives to her to read early in the story (hence the title of the book). The cover art is a lovely and intricate silhouette cut by Beth White.  The narrator of the audiobook is Natalie Ross, a native Texan, who makes a perfect adult Calpurnia looking back at that half-year and telling her own story.  This will definitely be a book I'll re-read.  I think it will also appeal to avid young female readers ages 11 and up.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my university library and my local public library respectively. This review is also available on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Jul 2, 2014 |
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is all about Calpurnia and her love for science. However, being a girl growing up in 1899, this was frowned upon. She didn’t know where to start with her love for the outdoors and creatures, until she allied with her Granddaddy, who is a naturalist himself. He teaches her the ins and outs of science, and gives her Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species to read. This book is not all about science though; there are many funny incidents that this big family gets into, that will make you laugh.

This book fits the historical fiction genre perfectly, but can also be used to learn about other subjects easily. Science is the most obvious one. Callie and her Grandfather loved natural science. They were always outside observing and collecting things. Callie always kept up with her discoveries in her notebook. A possible science assignment for students would be creating their own nature guide, or brochure, over one of the living things talked about in the story. Examples include the grasshopper, hummingbird, wolf spider, hairy vetch, fig beetle, dragonfly, white-tailed deer, red-tailed hawk, opossum, armadillo, and catfish. Students could create their own illustrations, find out facts about the animal, and share any personal experiences they might have had with the animal they chose.

Connecting history in this book is easily done as well. Jacqueline Kelly writes in a way that really puts an image in our heads of how different life was back in 1899. Not only through the drought, but distinct differences in the lives of girls and boys. Calpurnia was forced to learn how to play the piano, sew, and cook in preparation for marriage and to become a lady. Calpurnia didn’t enjoy any of these things, but was forced to do them anyway. Her younger brother Jim Bowie was scolded for making the Thanksgiving turkey into a pet, and having an interest in making a pie. This is very different from life today where we are free to make our own choices in what our hobbies and interest may be. A teacher could assign other readings that explain the differences in life back then. After reading them the students could write a response on how they would have felt if they were a boy or girl in those days. Would they be okay being forced to learn how to play the piano and cook? Or would they rather be outside playing in the river?

Another fun activity to do with this book is to take a deeper look into the names of the brothers, the dogs, the cats, and of Calpurnia herself. All of her brothers are named after famous Texans, the dogs are named after Greek heroes, the cats for famous outlaws, and Calpurnia is named after her aunt as far as she knows. However, Grandfather tells her she shares her name with a type of tree and some historical figures. Students could research these people and report on them. They could also go home and ask their parents why they were given their names, and write a short paragraph over what they discovered. They could then take turns sharing them with the class.

You could also have students examine the history of inventions that are presented in the book (the automobile and telephone). Many children today do not understand the value of technology or where it originated. Therefore, incorporating this as a science/history activity could be a good idea as well.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a marvelous read, and would be a good addition to a 4th to 6th grade library. It teaches history and science in a way students will enjoy. Teachers will also enjoy it because of the numerous activities that can be done with it. ( )
  rdg301library | Jul 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 151 (next | show all)
In her debut novel, Jacqueline Kelly brings to vivid life a boisterous small-town family at the dawn of a new century. Readers will want to crank up the A.C. before cracking the cover, though. That first chapter packs a lot of summer heat.
Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
Calpurnia is an active, inquisitive eleven-year-old girl, living in a small Texas town in 1899. She takes no interest in cooking or sewing and is, in fact, inept in all household duties. Calpurnia is the only girl in a family of seven children, so her mother keeps trying to domesticate her, but Calpurnia consistently resists. She has developed a special relationship with her eccentric grandfather, a scientist and naturalist. They explore the nearby river and woods and are excited about the possibility of having discovered a new plant. Granddaddy loans her his copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and a quotation from the book appears at the beginning of each chapter. Calpurnia reads this book and others, records her findings and questions in a journal, and aspires to become a scientist. Other than her grandfather, her family does not support her in this quest. Her future is left uncertain, but readers will be rooting for her to achieve her goal. This book presents an engaging piece of historical-fiction depicting the roles and expectations for women at the turn of the twentieth century. 2009, Henry Holt and Company/Macmillan, $16.99. Ages 9 to 12.

added by kthomp25 | editChildren's Literature, Phyllis Kennemer
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When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine what differences to consider... for her knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group is subject...
[Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species]
The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown; no one can say why...the child often revert in certain characters to its grandfather...
[Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species]
Seedlings from the same fruit, and the young of the same litter, sometimes differ considerably from each other, though both the young and the parents...have apparently been exposed to exactly the same conditions of life...
[Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species]
We may conclude...that any change in the numerical proportions of some of the inhabitants, independently of the change of climate itself, would most seriously affect many of the others.
[Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species]
For my mother, Noeline Kelly

For my father, Brian Kelly

For my husband, Robert Duncan
First words
By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. We arose in the dar, hours before sunrise, when there was barely a smudge of indigo along the eastern sky and the rest of the horizon was still pure pitch.
One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.
It was too bad, but sometimes a little knowledge could ruin your whole day, or at least take some of the shine off.
'The lesson for today is this: It is better to travel with hope in one's heart than to arrive in safety. Do you understand?'
'There are so many things to learn, you see, and so little time is given us.'
"The lesson for today is this: It is better to travel with hope in one's heart than to arrive in safety....we should celebrate today's failure because it is a clear sign that our voyage of discovery is not yet over. The day the experiment succeeds is the day the experiment ends. And I inevitably find that the sadness of ending outweighs the celebration of success."
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Book description
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.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805088415, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:27 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In central Texas in 1899, eleven-year-old Callie Vee Tate is instructed to be a lady by her mother, learns about love from the older three of her six brothers, and studies the natural world with her grandfather, the latter of which leads to an important discovery.… (more)

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