In this witty historical fiction middle grade novel set at the turn of the century, an 11-year-old girl explores the natural world, learns about science and animals, and grows up. A Newbery Honor Book.
“The most delightful historical novel for tweens in many, many years. . . . Callie's struggles to find a place in the world where she'll be encouraged in the gawky joys of intellectual curiosity are fresh, funny, and poignant today.” The New Yorker
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.
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 by Jacqueline Kelly was a 2010 Newbery Honor Book and the winner of the 2010 Bank Street - Josette Frank Award. This title has Common Core connections. This is perfect for young readers who like historical fiction, STEM topics, animal stories, and feminist middle grade novels.
Don't miss the sequel!
The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate
To follow Calpurnia Tate on more adventures, read the Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet chapter book series:
Who Gives a Hoot?
A Prickly Problem
Praise for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate:
“The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is the most delightful historical novel for tweens in many, many years. . . . Callie's struggles to find a place in the world where she'll be encouraged in the gawky joys of intellectual curiosity are fresh, funny, and poignant today.” The New Yorker, "Book Bench" section
“In her debut novel, Jacqueline Kelly brings to vivid life a boisterous small-town family at the dawn of a new century. And she especially shines in her depiction of the natural world that so intrigues Callie. . . . Readers will want to crank up the A.C. before cracking the cover, though. That first chapter packs a lot of summer heat.” The Washington Post
“Each chapter of this winning . . . novel opens with a quotation from ‘On the Origin of Species'a forbidden book that her own grandfather turns out to have hidden away. Together they study Darwin's masterpiece, leading to a revolution in Callie's ideas of what she might accomplish on her own.” New York Times Book Review
“Callie's transformation into an adult and her unexpected bravery make for an exciting and enjoyable read. Kelly's rich images and setting, believable relationships and a touch of magic take this story far.” Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large familythe bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandingsall 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.” Booklist, Starred Review
“Readers will finish this witty, deftly crafted debut novel rooting for "Callie Vee" and wishing they knew what kind of adult she would become.” Kirkus, Starred Review
“A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. . . . there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel.” School Library Journal, Starred Review
“Narrator Calpurnia's voice is fresh and convincing, and Granddaddy is that favorite relative most readers would love to claim as their own. Historical fiction fans are in for a treat.” The Bulletin
“Kelly, without anachronism, has created a memorable, warm, spirited young woman who's refreshingly ahead of her time.” The Horn Book Review
“That rare book that will appeal to child and adult alike.” Austin American-Statesman
“Introduces a turn-of-the-20th-century heroine for modern times.” Shelf Awareness
About the Author
Jacqueline Kelly won the Newbery Honor for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, her first book. She was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada, in the dense rainforests of Vancouver Island. Her family then moved to El Paso, Texas, and Kelly attended college in El Paso, then went on to medical school in Galveston. After practicing medicine for many years, she went to law school at the University of Texas, and after several years of law practice, realized she wanted to write fiction. Her first story was published in the Mississippi Review in 2001. She now makes her home with her husband and various cats and dogs in Austin and Fentress, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
By Jacqueline Kelly
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2009 Jacqueline Kelly
All rights reserved.
THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
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 he knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group is subject....
By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. We arose in the dark, 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. We lit our kerosene lamps and carried them before us in the dark like our own tiny wavering suns. There was a full day's work to be done before noon, when the deadly heat drove everyone back into our big shuttered house and we lay down in the dim high-ceilinged rooms like sweating victims. Mother's usual summer remedy of sprinkling the sheets with refreshing cologne lasted only a minute. At three o'clock in the afternoon, when it was time to get up again, the temperature was still killing.
The heat was a misery for all of us in Fentress, but it was the women who suffered the most in their corsets and petticoats. (I was still a few years too young for this uniquely feminine form of torture.) They loosened their stays and sighed the hours away and cursed the heat and their husbands, too, for dragging them to Caldwell County to plant cotton and acres of pecan trees. Mother temporarily gave up her hairpieces, a crimped false fringe and a rolled horsehair rat, platforms on which she daily constructed an elaborate mountain of her own hair. On those days when we had no company, she even took to sticking her head under the kitchen pump and letting Viola, our quadroon cook, pump away until she was soaked through. We were forbidden by sharp orders to laugh at this astounding entertainment. As Mother gradually surrendered her dignity to the heat, we discovered (as did Father) that it was best to keep out of her way.
My name is Calpurnia Virginia Tate, but back then everybody called me Callie Vee. That summer, I was eleven years old and the only girl out of seven children. Can you imagine a worse situation? I was spliced midway between three older brothers — Harry, Sam Houston, and Lamar — and three younger brothers — Travis, Sul Ross, and the baby, Jim Bowie, whom we called J.B. The little boys actually managed to sleep at midday, sometimes even piled atop one another like damp, steaming puppies. The men who came in from the fields and my father, back from his office at the cotton gin, slept too, first dousing themselves with tin buckets of tepid well water on the sleeping porch before falling down on their rope beds as if poleaxed.
Yes, the heat was a misery, but it also brought me my freedom. While the rest of the family tossed and dozed, I secretly made my way to the San Marcos River bank and enjoyed a daily interlude of no school, no pestiferous brothers, and no Mother. I didn't have permission to do this, exactly, but no one said I couldn't. I got away with it because I had my own room at the far end of the hall, whereas my brothers all had to share, and they would have tattled in a red-hot second. As far as I could tell, this was the sole decent thing about being the only girl.
Our house was separated from the river by a crescent-shaped parcel of five acres of wild, uncleared growth. It would have been an ordeal to push my way through it except that the regular river patrons — dogs, deer, brothers — kept a narrow path beaten down through the treacherous sticker burrs that rose as high as my head and snatched at my hair and pinafore as I folded myself narrow to slide by. When I reached the river, I stripped down to my chemise, floating on my back with my shimmy gently billowing around me in the mild currents, luxuriating in the coolness of the water flowing around me. I was a river cloud, turning gently in the eddies. I looked up at the filmy bags of webworms high above me in the lush canopy of oaks bending over the river. The webworms seemed to mirror me, floating in their own balloons of gauze in the pale turquoise sky.
That summer, all the men except for my grandfather Walter Tate cut their hair close and shaved off their thick beards and mustaches. They looked as naked as blind salamanders for the few days it took to get over the shock of their pale, weak chins. Strangely, Grandfather felt no distress from the heat, even with his full white beard tumbling down his chest. He claimed it was because he was a man of regular and moderate habits who never took whiskey before noon. His smelly old swallowtail coat was hopelessly outdated by then, but he wouldn't hear of parting with it. Despite regular spongings with benzene at the hands of our maid San Juanna, the coat always kept its musty smell and strange color, which was neither black nor green.
Grandfather lived under the same roof with us but was something of a shadowy figure. He had long since turned over the running of the family business to his only son, my father, Alfred Tate, and spent his days engaged in "experiments" in his "laboratory" out back. The laboratory was just an old shed that had once been part of the slave quarters. When he wasn't in the laboratory, he was either out hunting specimens or holed up with his moldering books in a dim corner of the library, where no one dared disturb him.
I asked Mother if I could cut off my hair, which hung in a dense swelter all the way down my back. She said no, she wouldn't have me running about like a shorn savage. I found this manifestly unfair, to say nothing of hot. So I devised a plan: Every week I would cut off an inch of hair — just one stealthy inch — so that Mother wouldn't notice. She wouldn't notice because I would camouflage myself with good manners. When I took on the disguise of a polite young lady, I could often escape her closer scrutiny. She was usually swamped by the constant demands of the household and the ceaseless uproar of my brothers. You wouldn't believe the amount of chaos and commotion six brothers could create. Plus, the heat aggravated her crippling sick headaches, and she had to resort to a big spoonful of Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, known to be the Best Blood Purifier for Women.
That night I took a pair of embroidery scissors and, with great exhilaration and a pounding heart, cut off the first inch. I looked at the soft haystack of hair cupped in my palm. I was striding forth to greet my future in the shiny New Century, a few short months away. It seemed to me a great moment indeed. I slept poorly that night in fear of the morning.
The next day I held my breath coming down the stairs to breakfast. The pecan flapjacks tasted like cardboard. And do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing. No one noticed in the slightest. I was mightily relieved but also thought, Well, isn't that just like this family. In fact, no one noticed anything until four weeks and four inches went by and our cook, Viola, gave me a hard look one morning. But she didn't say a word.
It was so hot that for the first time in history Mother left the candles of the chandelier unlit at dinnertime. She even let Harry and me skip our piano lessons for two weeks. Which was just as well. Harry sweated on the keys so that they turned hazy along the pattern of the Minuet in G. Nothing Mother or San Juanna tried could bring the sheen back to the ivory. Besides, our music teacher, Miss Brown, was ancient, and her decrepit horse had to pull her gig three miles from Prairie Lea. They would both likely collapse on the trip and have to be put down. On consideration, not such a bad idea.
Father, on learning that we would miss our lessons, said, "A good thing, too. A boy needs piano like a snake needs a hoopskirt."
Mother didn't want to hear it. She wanted seventeen-year-old Harry, her oldest, to become a gentleman. She had plans to send him off to the university in Austin fifty miles away when he turned eighteen. According to the newspaper, there were five hundred students at the university, seventeen of them well-chaperoned young ladies in the School of Liberal Arts (with a choice of music, English, or Latin). Father's plan was different; he wanted Harry to be a businessman and one day take over the cotton gin and the pecan orchards and join the Freemasons, as he had. Father apparently didn't think piano lessons were a bad idea for me though, if he considered the matter at all.
In late June, the Fentress Indicator reported that the temperature was 106 degrees in the middle of the street outside the newspaper office. The paper did not mention the temperature in the shade. I wondered why not, as no one in his right mind spent more than a second in the sun, except to make smartly for the next patch of shadow, whether it be cast by tree or barn or plow horse. It seemed to me that the temperature in the shade would be a lot more useful to the citizens of our town. I labored over A Letter To The Editor pointing this out, and to my great amazement, the paper published my letter the following week. To my family's greater amazement, it began to publish the temperature in the shade as well. Reading that it was only 98 in the shade somehow made us all feel a bit cooler.
There was a sudden surge in insect activity both inside the house and out. Grasshoppers rose in flocks beneath the horses' hooves. The fireflies came out in such great numbers that no one could remember a summer with a more spectacular show. Every evening, my brothers and I gathered on the front porch and held a contest to see who could spot the first flicker. There was considerable excitement and honor in winning, especially after Mother took a scrap of blue silk from her sewing basket and cut out a fine medallion, complete with long streamers. In between headaches she embroidered FENTRESS FIREFLY PRIZE on it in gold floss. It was an elegant and much-coveted prize. The winner kept it until the following night.
Ants invaded the kitchen as never before. They marched in military formation through minute cracks around the baseboards and windows and headed straight for the sink. They were desperate for water and would not be stopped. Viola took up arms against them to no avail. We deemed the fireflies a bounty and the ants a plague, but it occurred to me for the first time to question why there should be such a distinction. They were all just creatures trying to survive the drought, as we were. I thought Viola should give up and leave them alone, but I reconsidered after discovering that the black pepper in the egg salad was not pepper at all.
While certain insects overran us, some of the other normal inhabitants of our property, such as earthworms, disappeared. My brothers complained about the lack of worms for fishing and the difficulty of digging for them in the hard, parched ground. Perhaps you've wondered, Can earthworms be trained? I'm here to tell you that they can. The solution seemed obvious to me: The worms always came when it rained, and it was easy enough to make some rain for them. I carried a tin bucket of water to a shaded area in the five acres of scrub and dumped it on the ground in the same place a couple of times a day. After four days, I only had to show up with my bucket, and the worms, drawn by my footsteps and the promise of water, crawled to the surface. I scooped them up and sold them to Lamar for a penny a dozen. Lamar nagged me to tell him where I'd found them, but I wouldn't. However, I did confess my method to Harry, my favorite, from whom I could keep nothing. (Well, almost nothing.)
"Callie Vee," he said, "I've got something for you." He went to his bureau and took out a pocket-sized red leather notebook with SOUVENIR OF AUSTIN stamped on the front.
"Look here," he said. "I've never used it. You can use it to write down your scientific observations. You're a regular naturalist in the making."
What, exactly, was a naturalist? I wasn't sure, but I decided to spend the rest of my summer being one. If all it meant was writing about what you saw around you, I could do that. Besides, now that I had my own place to write things down, I saw things I'd never noticed before.
My first recorded notes were of the dogs. Due to the heat, they lay so still in the dirt as to look dead. Even when my younger brothers chivvied them with sticks out of boredom, they wouldn't bother to raise their heads. They got up long enough to slurp at the water trough and then flopped down again, raising puffs of dust in their shallow hollows. You couldn't have rousted Ajax, Father's prize bird dog, with a shotgun let off a foot in front of his muzzle. He lay with his mouth lolling open and let me count his teeth. In this way, I discovered that the roof of a dog's mouth is deeply ridged in a backwards direction down his gullet, in order no doubt to encourage the passage of struggling prey in one direction only, namely that of DINNER. I wrote this in my Notebook.
I observed that the expressions of a dog's face are mainly manifested by the movement of its eyebrows. I wrote, Why do dogs have eyebrows? Why do dogs need eyebrows?
I asked Harry, but he didn't know. He said, "Go ask Grandfather. He knows that sort of thing."
But I wouldn't. The old man had fierce tufty eyebrows of his own, rather like a dragon's, and he was altogether too imposing a figure for me to have clambered on as an infant. He had never spoken to me directly that I remembered, and I wasn't entirely convinced he knew my name.
Next I turned my attention to the birds. For some reason, we had a great number of cardinals about the place that year. Harry tickled me when he said we had a fine crop of them, as if we had something to do with their number, as if we had labored to harvest their bright, cheerful bodies and place them in the trees along our gravel drive like Christmas ornaments. But because there were so many and the drought had cut down on their normal diet of seeds and berries, the males squabbled furiously over possession of each hackberry tree. I found a mutilated dead male in the brush, a startling and sad sight. Then one morning a female came to perch on the back of the wicker chair next to me on the porch. I froze. I could have reached out and touched her with my finger. A lump of gray-brown matter dangled from her pale-apricot beak. It looked like a tiny baby mouse, thimble-sized, dead or dying.
When I related this at dinner, Father said, "Calpurnia, cardinals do not eat mice. They live on vegetation. Sam Houston, please pass the potatoes."
"Yes, well, I'm just telling you, sir," I said lamely, and then felt furious with myself for not having defended what I'd seen with my own eyes. The thought of the cardinals driven to such unnatural behavior repelled me. The next step would be cannibalism. Before I went to bed that night, I took a can full of oats from the stable and dribbled them along the drive. I wrote in the Notebook, How many cardinals will we have next year, with not enough to eat? Remember to count.
I next wrote in my Notebook that we had two very different kinds of grasshoppers that summer. We had the usual quick little emerald ones decorated all over with black speckles. And then there were huge bright yellow ones, twice as big, and torpid, so waxy and fat that they bowed down the grasses when they landed. I had never seen these before. I polled everyone in the house (except Grandfather) to find out where these odd yellow specimens had come from, but nobody could tell me. None of them was the slightest bit interested.
As a last resort, I rounded up my courage and went out to my grandfather's laboratory. I pushed back the burlap flap that served as a door and stood quaking on the threshold. He looked up in surprise from the counter where he was pouring a foul-looking brown liquid into various beakers and retorts. He didn't invite me in. I stumbled through my grasshopper conundrum while he stared at me as if he was having trouble placing me.
"Oh," he said mildly, "I suspect that a smart young whip like you can figure it out. Come back and tell me when you have." He turned away from me and began to write in his ledger.
So, that was that. My audience with the dragon. I counted it a wash. On the one hand, he hadn't breathed fire at me, but on the other, he'd been no help at all. Perhaps if I'd made Harry go with me, Grandfather would have accorded me more attention. Maybe he was peeved that I'd interrupted his work, although he had spoken to me in polite tones. I knew what he was working on. For some reason, he had gotten it in his head to figure out a way to distill pecans into whiskey. He apparently reasoned that if you could make fine spirits from common corn and the lowly potato, why not the princely pecan? And, Lord knows, we were drowning in pecans — sixty acres of them.
I went back to my room and contemplated the grasshopper puzzle. I had one of the small green grasshoppers in a jar on my vanity, and I stared at it for inspiration. I had been unable to catch one of the big yellow ones, even though they were much slower.
"Why are you different?" I asked, but it refused to answer.
Excerpted from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Copyright © 2009 Jacqueline Kelly. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES,
CHAPTER 2: THE MEASURE OF THE MORNING,
CHAPTER 3: THE POSSUM WARS,
CHAPTER 4: VIOLA,
CHAPTER 5: DISTILLATIONS,
CHAPTER 6: MUSIC LESSONS,
CHAPTER 7: HARRY GETS A GIRLFRIEND,
CHAPTER 8: MICROSCOPY,
CHAPTER 9: PETEY,
CHAPTER 10: LULA STIRS UP TROUBLE (BUT DOESN'T MEAN TO),
CHAPTER 11: KNITTING LESSONS,
CHAPTER 12: A SCIENTIFIC STUDY,
CHAPTER 13: A SCIENTIFIC CORRESPONDENCE,
CHAPTER 14: THE SHORT HOE,
CHAPTER 15: A SEA OF COTTON,
CHAPTER 16: THE TELEPHONE COMES,
CHAPTER 17: HOME ECONOMIES,
CHAPTER 18: COOKING LESSONS,
CHAPTER 19: A DISTILLERY SUCCESS, OF SORTS,
CHAPTER 20: THE BIG BIRTHDAY,
CHAPTER 21: THE REPRODUCTIVE IMPERATIVE,
CHAPTER 22: THANKSGIVING,
CHAPTER 23: THE FENTRESS FAIR,
CHAPTER 24: HARRY WOOS AGAIN,
CHAPTER 25: CHRISTMAS EVE,
CHAPTER 26: WORD COMES,
CHAPTER 27: NEW YEAR'S EVE,
CHAPTER 28: 1900,
Reading Group Guide
The author uses quotes from Darwin's The Origin of Species to introduce each chapter. What purpose do these introductions serve? Do you find that the quote Kelly uses for the first chapter is relevant to Calpurnia's excitement about nature? How do you think Darwin's quote, "When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine the differences to consider…" relates to Calpurnia?
The first time Calpurnia and Granddaddy go to the riverbank together, Calpurnia learns that she shares her name with "Pliny the Younger's fourth wife, the one he married for love. … There's also the natal acacia tree, genus Calpurnia, a useful laburnum mainly confined to the African continent. Then there's Julius Caesar's wife, mentioned in Shakespeare" (p. 27). Do you think the name "Calpurnia" suits this character? Why or why not?
Much of the book's action is set in the heat of the summer. How might the weather affect the characters?
This novel is set in 1899. We learn a lot about Granddaddy through his war stories, but he never mentions the name or purpose of the war (p. 40). Which war did he fight in? How do you think Granddaddy's experiences in that war affect his relationship with Viola? Do you find their relationship to be unusual for that time? How does Viola fit into the Tate family?
Calpurnia is the only daughter of six sons. She is expected to learn cooking, sewing, knitting and other domestic skills to be a good wife and mother. In chapter 8, Granddaddy and Calpurnia examine a fuzzy, probably poisonous, caterpillar. When Calpurnia questions the "sting" (p. 109) of the caterpillar, Granddaddy replies, "I suppose you could touch him and find out. Which raises an interesting point: How far are you willing to go in the name of science?" (p. 109). How does this question relate to Calpurnia's struggle with her mother about a woman's role in the household?
A simile is a literary device that uses "like" or "as" to compare two things. How does Calpurnia use similes? Find some examples in the book. How do Calpurnia's similes help readers understand her character and the story?
Throughout the novel, Calpurnia is always claiming Granddaddy and Harry as "mine" (p. 166) and she is always nervous when other people come become between her and them. Why does she react this way?
Viola calls Calpurnia "Miz" (p. 224) for the first time as she instructs her to mix the ingredients to make apple pie. As Calpurnia is introduced more and more into
womanhood by her mother and other women in her life, how do you think her relationship with Viola changes?
After trying his latest Pecan alcohol experiment and claiming it to be unsuccessful, Granddaddy says, "The day the experiment succeeds is the day the experiment ends. And I inevitably find that the sadness of the ending outweighs the celebration of success" (p. 324). How does this comment relate to Granddaddy's reaction upon receiving the letter from the Smithsonian?
The year 1900 begins with a rare snow storm. What does this symbolize for Calpurnia and her family? Do you think that Calpurnia will continue her observations in science or do you think she is going to become the woman her mother wants and expects her to be?
Jacqueline Kelly uses rich vocabulary throughout The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, and you may not be familiar with all the words. As you read, use context to determine the definitions of words you don't know. Then use a dictionary to check your definitions. Start with these words:
pestiferous (pg. 3) moldering (pg. 4) accorded (pg. 11) loitered (pg. 13)
dilapidated (pg. 18) consternation (pg. 19) stupefying (pg. 29) begrudge (pg. 37)
dragooned (pg. 40) duchy (pg. 50) minutiae (pg. 56) pedagogic (pg. 63)
protuberant (pg. 74) feigning (pg. 83) desiccated (pg. 96) jettison (pg. 116)
ignominy (pg. 131) tedium (pg. 155) ensconced (pg. 172) prodigious (pg. 197)
malevolent (pg. 213) efficacious (pg. 230) debacle (pg. 247) purgatives (pg. 269)
odious (pg. 288) feral (pg. 310) surreptitious (pg. 323) gingerly (pg. 336)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is truly wonderful. At first, I thought I was going to have a hard time finishing it, but the farther I got into it, the harder it was to put down. I almost felt as though I was walking alongside Calpurnia in the summer of 1899 on her search for her identity among a family of six brothers and struggling for all intents and purposes, against fulfilling the traditionally female roles at the turn of the century. Calpurnia is a young girl, eleven years old facing the brink of puberty and what that means for the remains of her life - grooming to be a housewife and mother, not something that Calpurnia is the least bit interested in. As she sets out in hopes of avoiding her mother and the never-ending array of chores set aside for 'girls', Calpurnia ends up taking to her grandfather and is gradually drawn in to his love of exploration and all things science. Soon, Calpurnia begins reading Darwin's Evolution of the Species and despite struggling with the text, continues to show an interest in the topic. Together with her grandfather, Calpurnia is slowing recognizing exactly what it is she's searching for in her life and by the end of the story is more determined than ever to break the stereotypical role inflicted on women by society and dreams to attend college to study science. This is definitely a worthy read for girls in fourth-seventh grade, especially if they already show a budding interest in science or are struggling to appreciate science. The story would also fit well as part of an integrated unit on evolution, as the subject is highly touched upon in the story.
The summer of Calpurnia Virginia Tate's 11th birthday was a hot one. Everyone in her large family suffered from the heat in their Fentress, Texas home, but as Calpurnia was the only girl in a family of seven children, she also found freedom during afternoon naptime. That's when she stole away from her room and down to the river, where she floated dreamily in the cool water. During her outings away from the noise of having six brothers, Calpurnia discovers the natural world and starts making observations about it in her notebook. She also screws up her courage to talk to her grandfather, a shadowy figure who spends most of his time by himself caught up in reading or scientific experiments. But when her grandfather discovers that Calpurnia's interest is genuine, he begins to include her in his experiments and observations. When they believe they discover a new species of vetch, they send it in to the Smithsonian for judgment. Calpurnia's activities with her grandfather brings up a conflict with Calpurnia's mother, who believes that in the year 1899 girls must prepare to be women who run households, and nothing more. That means cooking, sewing, knitting and tatting, all occupations Calpurnia abhors. As she struggles to follow her heart's desire, Calpurnia must discover if there are options for women in her time who have interests other than the domestic. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is historical fiction that reveals turn-of-the-last-century times in rural Texas. It was a time not very far removed from the Civil War, and Calpurnia's grandfather as well as many others in town fought in the war. The Tate family farms cotton, and they are wealthy by the standards of most people in town. They have a housekeeper and a cook as well as regular farm hands, and while the children have daily chores, they don't have the responsibility of making the farm productive. This was also a time when Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species was making an impact. It had been published for about 50 years, but his conclusions were still hotly debated, and as Calpurnia found out, some libraries refused to carry copies of the book. Each chapter begins with a quote from Darwin that's applicable to the action to come. As the book progresses, Calpurnia grows in her ability to understand the people and the world around her through observations made with a microscope and her regular vision. This book is sure to delight mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 12 and up. Discussions can center on the differences between life for girls and women in 1899 versus life now, living up to the expectations of your parents versus following your heart, and scientific experiences. Girls may even find inspiration for a school science project, and groups can even tie in craft or sewing projects. I highly recommend it.
Wow! I could not put this book down!!!! :)
This is a wonderful book. Reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie series. Great for all ages.
A fabulous historical novel for young and old. Helps readers understand the evolution of nature scienitists and opens your eyes to the wonders in your backyard.
This book is a very good read for learning about history of our country and discussing how traditions were in the past such as dating. It brings up life before phones and televisions and gives a parent an opportunity to discuss how male and female roles in the past were very established. Reading Calpurnia Tate with my daughter has given us a chance to discuss the avenues that are open for her today and really show how life has evolved in our country and how she is fortunate to have the ability to chose what she would like to do as a career for herself and not have societal pressures like there was in the past.
Love it! This book is the bomb! Its pretty legit. Awesome! Totally read it!
I read it last year and it was really good
Kelly's debut novel is a wonderful exposé on Southern society life at the turn of the 20th century, rife with subtexts and references to post-slavery issues and mindsets, the rise of modern machinery like the car and telephone, and the clear and unbalanced gender lines that existed and the struggle of one girl to overcome those. In particular, this is an important novel for those looking into pursuing sciences, especially because of the constant references and education around naturalism, its rise into society, the opposition it received from schools and a predominantly Christian culture, and the important role it played in the emergence of a new humanity in over the 20th century. Calpurnia is a delight to follow as she begins to notice the world around her. In her own evolution, she begins in the larval stage and moves through pupae, cocoon, and eventually becomes a bright and beautiful butterfly (or moth as is a symbolic reference in the book). Kelly is witty and clever in her treatment of Calpurnia's growth as a person, a scientist, and a courageous and curious mind. She exhibits a vast range of human emotion, showing empathy, sadness, self-sacrifice and exuberant joy, clearly a believable and lovable character. Kelly also has deftly woven passages from Darwin's Origin of Species, cunningly breaking the 4th wall for the reader in an effort to compare the evolution of Calpurnia and her world to that of Darwin's scientific expositions. For those looking for an excellent read that contains layers of depth that can be turned to several times before fully comprehending everything, then this is the perfect novel. I recommend it to all readers 10+. -Lindsey Miller, www.lindseyslibrary.com
I loved this book! Besides being a nice book, it has more! The evolution of Calpurnia or "Callie V.", perfectly describes my life. I am a girl Callie's age who is curiuos about everything, but her mom makes her learn how to be a lady. I, to, is stuck with knitting and silly piano lessons that I seriously DO NOT LIKE!!! I mean, whats the point if a. you dont like it and b. it wont help you at all in later life? DONT YOU AGREE????!!!!
I absolutely loved this book and recommend that all girls over the age of nine read about Calpurnia’s journey to understanding herself and realizing what she wants to do with her life. As a girl who loved to explore her makeshift garden and grew up in a big family, I completely empathized with Calpurnia Tate’s busy life and easily submersed myself in her enthralling world. Calpurnia, a tomboy who would rather inspect animals and plants than stitches or ribbons, lives on a Texas plantation in 1899 with her six brothers, father, ladylike mother, and her mysterious grandfather. Bored with her mother’s lectures on housewifery, Calpurnia slowly befriends her grandfather and learns about naturalism from him. She realizes that she wants to become a scientist even though her family and society want her to become a wife and mother. Calpurnia deals with the obstacles of being a girl in 1899, and all readers can sympathize with her plight to break out of the mold. Kelly’s beautiful prose and feisty heroine make this poignant novel resonate with readers and encourages them to find their way in the natural order of things.
This is a beautiful story, beautifully written. The author knows how to get inside the character of her heroine and portrays her in a way that will make young readers identify with her. This is an inspiring heartwarming book for all ages. I highly recommend it for good readers age 11 and up.
Don't let the suckish description stop you from reading this awesome book!!!
I have not read it yet but it looks really good and i am excited to read it
I have the book it is good.
I have not started this book but I am very excited about getting it. I am hoping this will be a great read.
I luv the book!!!!!"""!!!!!!!&i couldn't put it down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Calpurnia Virginia Tate - generally called "Callie Vee" by her six brothers - discovers an interest in science, much to the consternation of her mother, who would like her only daughter to be a proper young lady. But at practically twelve in 1899, Calpurnia is finding, with encouragement from her naturalist grandfather, a whole wonderful world opening up to her.I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did, fearing that Kelly wouldn't be able to help bashing Christians in a book talking about a girl learning about science and Darwin in Texas. She does a good job of treading lightly and treating issues more complexly than that, however. A quote from The Origin of Species opens each chapter, and Callie has an adventure trying to borrow the book from the library. But her grandfather, an admirer of Darwin, is also good friends with the local minister, and there are no lectures on believing one way or the other. Callie is a great character. I loved the realistic interactions between Callie and her brothers, or her mother, especially. Callie jumps into things with both feet, like a true eleven-year-old, wondering about the world around her, whether it be the natural world or her oldest brother's love life. Narrator Natalie Ross did an excellent job of capturing her voice, as well as making each of her brothers and other characters sound distinctive.
When I first tried reading this book I quickly put it down because it didn't seem like it worked to me. It was a little too precious. After hearing many people rave about it I picked it up again and this time enjoyed it, though I still didn't think it worked as well as others (in particular the Penderwick books by Mary Birdsall). The characters were likeable, though a little one-dimensional. It is always fascinating to read about life back at the turn of the century. Calpurnia is a girl from a fairly well off family, so the expectations of how she will occupy herself do seem stifling. I think many girls will be inspired by Calpurnia's interests.
Calpurnia Tate is an eleven-year-old girl in love with the natural world and out of sync with the expectations of her traditional Southern mother. Calpurnia discovers that her grandfather, whom she barely knows, shares her love of science, and he begins to mentor her as she explores Mr. Darwin's scandalous book and makes her own increasingly insightful observations of the natural world. At the same time as she wants to spend more time with her grandfather and their experiments, her mother decides it is time for Calpurnia to begin learning to be a lady. As needlework, cooking, and piano recitals prepare Calpurnia for one path in life, she begins to dream of another. How far can a girl's dreams be carried in Texas at the turn of the century?In the vein of The Penderwicks, this book is lively and features a brave, intelligent girl who makes a strong heroine and role model. Although the quotes from The Origin of the Species that begin each chapter may be difficult for a younger reader, the story itself is compelling simple and old-fashioned in its lack of modern tween angst. My only caution is that the passage where her grandfather recounts his time in the Civil War was a bit abruptly violent. Highly recommended for young girls and their families.
An absolutely delightful book about a young girl growing up at the turn of the century. Calpurnia would like to be a scientist and learns a lot about the natural world from her grandfather a self educated naturalist. My heart aches for her and her plight as the story unfolds because she might not get what she wants. I feel thankful I grew up much later in the 20th century. I chose to stay at home. Many women did not get that choice.
It is the year 1899. In sun-roasted rural Texas, 11-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate¿better known as Callie Vee¿attempts to navigate life with six brothers, a gentile mother, and an enigmatic grandfather who encourages her interest in science, even though the turn of the nineteenth century is no time for a young girl to be thinking about a ¿man¿s occupation.¿While her mother tries valiantly to domesticate her, Calpurnia wants nothing more than to be outside, making naturalistic observations in her journal, catching plant and insect specimens, and helping her grandfather in his experiments. As she watches her older brothers grow up and fall in love, and helps her grandfather discover what could possibly be a new plant species, Callie tries to carve out a place for herself in the heavily masculine world.Ever reread your beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder boxed set, then wonder where to go from there? Look no further than Jacqueline Kelly¿s stunning debut novel, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, which will be sure to win the hearts of any reader, whatever their age may be. In turn rip-roaringly funny and poignant, Callie Vee¿s story of her struggles and triumph over her oppressors will be sure to stay with your for many weeks.Calpurnia narrates from an almost distant time, as if she were an older woman reflecting on her preteen days. While I¿m not sure if this is intentional or not, the effect is that Calpurnia¿s story will more easily attract older readers¿if they aren¿t already charmed by Callie Vee¿s refreshingly innocent yet determined demeanor. She is the kind of middle-grade protagonist that can charm the pants off of everyone, an ahead-of-her-times young girl without the preaching or drama.Not to be outdone, Jacqueline Kelly¿s writing is just as impressive and genuine. She unwinds the characters¿ stories with all the skill, ingenuity, and humor of a far more established character writer. We readers are left chuckling at the Tate family¿s escapades and sighing with happiness when things go right.THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE is definitely a 2009 debut that should not be missed. This is a book that will go far; I can only hope that my review will be just one more tiny little paddle pushing it in your, and the award givers¿, direction.
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.
The story of a young girl growing up on a Texas farm. The year is 1899, and she likes nothing more than studying with her naturalist grandfather. But her family wants her to learn the womanly arts so she can learn to manage a household.
It's the summer of 1899 when Calpurnia Tate stumbles upon the natural world and joins her gruff grandfather in collecting specimens and learning all there is to know about the world around her. Unfortunately, 11-year old Callie Vee (as her many brothers call her) isn't expected to be a scientist; she's expected to learn tatting and cooking and grow up to be somebody's wife. But what if that's not what she wants? I really expected to like this book more than I did. I did like the beginning and the end, but the middle dragged for me. The writing is beautiful and the setting (Texas in 1899) is interesting - it's my favorite time period to read about - but I felt like the whole thing was just too long. And this is incredibly unfair, but the whole time I was reading I was comparing it to A Northern Light, which is about a 16-year-old New York girl wanting to go to college in 1906. If Mattie met Calpurnia, I'm pretty sure she would shake her until her teeth rattled.