jess's Reviews > The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
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's review
Aug 01, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: 2011, yaf, ladyish, audiobook-d
Read in July, 2011

I am not rich in the financial sense of the word & I aspire to never be such, but I do consider myself wealthy in my friendships with librarians. That means I occasionally get a book recommendation like Calpurnia Tate from my friend Laura. This is the sort of book that I should have read when I was a young aspiring girl scientist with a notebook and a billion questions about grasshoppers. The book wasn't written yet, but it should have been. I needed it.

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is growing up in Texas with six brothers in a successful cotton-farming family. This book finds her in 1899, and follows her through the summer and into the new year/new century. In the course of the book, she develops a fascinating inter-generational friendship with her kindred spirit grandfather who was a founding member of the National Geographic Society, invested in Bell's telephone company when it was just a hare-brained idea, and corresponded with Mr. Darwin. Even though he's a fictional character, I was impressed by the company that Granddaddy Tate had kept in his day. And Granddaddy puts all kinds of ideas into Callie's head, like scientific inquiry, discovering new species, seeing the world, reading Mr. Darwin's Origin of the Species - these are not the best hobbies for the only daughter of a successful cotton family in 1899. There is a struggle for Callie's attention and energy. She is torn between what she wants to do (her naturalist work) and what her family/society expect of her (tatting lace, playing the piano, learning to cook and keep house, preparing to be a debutante and find a husband).

This is not a flowery, philosophical, rambling book. The plot moves smartly. The language is clear and precise. It's easily accessible to younger readers and introduces some good vocabulary words as Calpurnia develops her scientific knowledge. This is historical fiction, but Calpurnia seems quite modern in the ways she experiences the injustice of her gender. I don't feel terribly sentimental about this book, and it's not one I would read again and again, but I did like it and I would put it in the hands of a child. I think there is value in treating scientific inquiry as if it were a normal way to spend your summer.
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message 1: by Beth (new)

Beth Bonini Thanks for this recommendation. I grew up in Texas (right in the middle of cotton country) and live in England now. I also love anything to do with Darwin. I wonder if it's been published in the UK? I'll check on that.

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