Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Kelly, Jacqueline.2009. The Evolution of  Calpurnia Tate. New York: Henry Holt and Co.  ISBN 978-0-8050-8841-0

Calpurnia Tate is an eleven year old girl in a family of six brothers.  Turn of the century Texas is not an easy place for a young girl with an inquisitive nature.  Exploring the world around her with her naturalist grandfather allows Calpurnia to discover many things about life with brothers, her grandfather, and who she is.  Amazing changes and surprises can happen in a girls life over the course of a year.


The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is, at its heart, a love story between a young girls and her grandfather.  The novel is about discovery.  Calpurnia discovers her love of science when she notices that the yellow grasshoppers surrounding her home are much larger than the green ones.  With that discovery, Calpurnia finds a deeper understanding of the world around her because of her grandfather and Charles Darwin's The Origin of the Species.  Her discoveries do not stop with science, but continue throughout the novel with questions of place in society and the world.

Ms. Kelly manages to produce likable and historically realistic characters.  The role of women at the turn of the century is clearly portrayed as are the expectations of men.  The year 1899 was a time of great change in the world.  The publication of Darwin made people question the world around them, their beliefs, and their place in the universe.  The Origin of the Species was so controversial that Calpurnia was actually denied access to the book at the local library by the librarian. 

Calpurnia is a precocious child who does not understand why she has to learn cooking and cleaning while her brothers do not.  She questions her role as a girl and weighs what she wants in a future.  The historical setting of the novel make these questions especially prudent and controversial. 

Ms. Kelly does readily acknowledge that she has taken liberties with Texas history and scientific notation.  Readers from Texas may notice the errors when they occur, but few other readers will.  The slight liberties taken with history do not in any way diminish the quality of the story. 

While there are many tertiary characters, their existence is simply to provide a frame of reference for Calpurnia and her grandfather.  Her mother provides the archetype of what a woman of society should be and what society expects Calpurnia to become.  Calpurnia's brothers represent the "normal" male of the era with very clear ideas about where a woman belonged and what her rights were, in that she had none.  Perhaps the most interesting character is Calpurnia's grandfather.  Because of his experiences in the war he is self sufficient and knows how to darn socks and cook.  Calpurnia finds these skills fascinating in a man as she knows of no others who can do them. 

Throughout the novel, Calpurnia finds so much that is changing and evolving.  But, the most important discovery is that of the love that she and her grandfather develop and share.
Newbery Honor Award

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