THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly
“There were so many things I wanted to see and do in my lifetime, but how many of them were within my reach?”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (JUL 16, 2010)
In the baking hot Texas summer of 1899, Harry, the oldest of eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate’s six brothers gives her a notebook in which she begins to write down her observations of nature. She also longs to get her hands on Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but the local librarian says it’s barely fit for adults, let alone a child. Calpurnia’s mother is busy riding herd over her seven active offspring and running the house, while her father oversees their cotton acreage and the mill. Neither parent nor all the brothers seem to have a scientific bone in their bodies. In the Tate family, Darwin’s note that “the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather’ seems on the money: Calpurnia’s granddaddy is a rather remote man who retired from commerce years ago to take up the pursuits of a naturalist. One day he comes across his granddaughter making her notes, and they begin exploring their mutual interest together. The old man mentors her, even opening one of his locked cabinets to haul out his copy of the book she so wants to read.
But Callie Vee, as most call her, is a girl born in times when women were expected to get married, have families, and run homes. Few and far between were those who had already bucked the conventions of the time. Calpurnia has the quiet, steady influence of her grandfather to encourage her love of science and nature, but her mother, especially, thinks it is time for her to really start applying herself to learning domestic skills. So her opportunities to roam the land and be in her granddaddy’s makeshift lab are sometimes curtailed by the order to learn knitting, needlepoint, and cooking. Captain Tate (her grandfather) tells her how one day, rather late in his life, he discovered the pull toward learning more of the world. Callie Vee has felt the same pull, much earlier in her life. But both of them know that no matter when such a desire for knowledge is discovered, it should be heeded. The old man, late as it was, did so. But Calpurnia is not sure she will be able to. As the new century approaches, she wonders whether her ambitions are within her reach.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a lovely invitation into a rural America just on the cusp of instituting sweeping changes such as the telephone and automobiles. Jacqueline Kelly creates the details of Calpurnia’s life so engagingly; and Calpurnia herself is, refreshingly, not a spoiled, insolent child (too often depicted in books). She is conscientious, sensitive, and caring, yet possessed of a definite will of her own. Her oldest and her youngest brothers arguably make the greatest impressions among boys, and her mother is more of an influence than her often absent or in-the-background father. And, of course, there is her granddaddy who can’t seem to keep the boys straight, but whose heart Calpurnia wins over.
This is a novel that doesn’t offer completely outrageous adventures or an unbearably suspenseful denouement, although it certainly contains both amusing and heart-tugging episodes. It reminds me of Caddie Woodlawn and similar novels of that genre. It is simply a wonderful story of a girl’s ripening awareness of her inquisitive nature and the possible limits into which she’s been born. Highly recommended to both young and old.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 57 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Henry Holt and Co. (BYR); 1 edition (May 12, 2009)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Jaqueline Kelly|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:
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- The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (March 2009)