Wendy's Reviews > The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
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Oct 12, 2009

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bookshelves: 2009-award-possibilities, newbery-honor

Wavering between three and four stars. I liked this a lot; it was very funny in spots, and I enjoyed the setting and everyone in the family. (Monica mentioned that she couldn't keep the brothers straight until well into the book; one of the funniest moments is when the grandfather says "Which one is he?" about one of his grandsons--obviously he had the same problem.) It was maybe a bit longer than it should have been, but that didn't really bother me.

I did feel like it was occasionally insensitive. I question, for instance, Kelly's use of the word "quadroon" to describe the cook--while I'm sure this is the word that would have been used, I don't know that it was necessary to use it or that it added anything. A couple of slightly cruel references are made to a mentally challenged kid, who has hydrocephalus--Calpurnia wonders if the kid is that way because his mother drank too much when she was pregnant. I was horrified by that at first, until I read the sentence a couple of times and realized that it would be a natural thing for budding scientist Calpurnia to think--was the kid born with water-on-the-brain because his mother drank too much WATER when she was pregnant. That is, of course, not the inference I made.

I was also hoping for something a little more nuanced with the character/plot development. I thought or hoped that eventually Calpurnia would get at least a little interested in the science of cooking or the math of knitting. I understood her disappointment at her Christmas present, but then I thought "this is the moment!"--but it wasn't.

Ultimately, I thought it was kind of sad; a book about how hard it is to be different, without any happy ending.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Monica (last edited Oct 12, 2009 02:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monica Edinger Interesting about the vocabulary choice you mention. I wondered about the business with the parrot --- that was given away because of always saying bugger, I think it was. I figured since Callie wondered what it meant the intended readers would too, perhaps ask, and did they really need to?


message 2: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Great review! This has been on my to-read shelf for a while. I now see that I'll have to be in the right mood to read it.


message 3: by Laurie (new) - added it

Laurie Reading this right now, and yes, I was really bothered by the phrase "Viola, our quadroon cook" that's on page TWO. TWO! What an introduction to the novel, and to 1899.


Morgan Wendy, I think you missed the point of the book. Calpurnia was never going to enjoy cooking or knitting in the slightest. That was evident from page one. The whole point of the book was to prove that Calpurnia's parents wouldn't listen. To show that Callie was always at odds with everyone. Calpurnia stuck to what she loved, what she wanted, and I would have hated the book had Calpurnia even begun to like cooking or sewing a slight amount. (Not to say that girls can't like cooking and science, of course.)


Wendy Hi, I see that you're a kid, so I'm just going to say: it's pretty rude to tell someone they missed the point of a book. Which I did not. Usually I prefer it when "the point" of a book is NOT evident from page one.

Cooking and sewing both involve a lot of math and science, so it would have been interesting TO ME (I emphasize that because that's what matters in a review of this kind) if she had come to see that and recognized that her early dislikes weren't necessarily as set in stone as she'd thought.


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