The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

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by Jacqueline Kelly. Novel. 340 pages. Grades 4-8.
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Review

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While her family is napping through the heat of Texas afternoons in the summer of 1899 Calpurnia sneaks off to the river to cool off and to escape the confines of an eleven year old girl's responsibilities in order to wonder at the tiny details of the riverside.

Calpurnia has six brothers and the full weight of taking on female roles in her family descends on her complete with corsets and needlework.

When her reclusive, naturalist, grandfather discovers her love of the natural world he takes a special interest in her and introduces her to Darwin's The Origin of Species where her intellectual curiosity is rewarded with knowledge of the workings of the life around her.

Calpurnia becomes obsessed with discovering a new species and she and her grandfather take on the challenge while thwarted on all fronts by the gender roles of the turn of the century.

Calpurnia, while full of spunk, is more than just the stereotype of a spunky heroine. She is a girl of her time while still frustrated by her time. Watching the inner musings of her singular mind is quite beguiling.

This is Jacqueline Kelly's first novel and she's an author to watch. This book won a Newbery Honor Award.

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Related Books

  • cover art Fair Weather by Richard Peck. (2001, Dial. ISBN 0803725167. Order Info.) Novel. 140 pages. Gr 4-8.
    Set in the same time period but in rural Illinois Fair Weather starts on the Beckett's farm where Buster, the brother of two teenage girls, Rosie and Lottie, is divesting a squirrel of its skin and tail. He'll sell the tail for a penny and they'll eat the squirrel for supper. The day is hot and boring, but, as the first line in the book tells us, things are about to change. A letter from an almost unknown aunt, their mother's sister Euterpe, invites the children and their mother to her home in Chicago where the wonders of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 await.
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