The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

PZ 7 .K296.  PZ is Fiction and Juvenile Belles lettres, k296 is the cutter for the author’s last name.   The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has received the International Reading Association Children’s Book Award (Intermediate Fiction, 2010), was on the International Reading Association Teachers’ Choices list (advanced, 2010), was a Newbery Honor Book (2010), received Bank Street’s Josette Frank Award (2010), was on the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best List (2010), was on the Texas Lone Star Reading List (2010), and was on Vermont Department of Libraries’ Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List (2009-2010).

Author: Jacqueline Kelly
ISBN-10: 0805088415 ISBN-13: 978-0805088410
City and Publisher: New York: Henry Holt
Copyright Date: 2009
Author’s Website:

Reader’s Annotation: It’s 1899 and eleven year old Calpurnia Virginia Tate  observes with burgeoning interest the effects of heat and drought on the flora and fauna of Fentress, Texas.  Although the librarian won’t lend her Darwin’s Origin of the Species, her reclusive grandfather gives her a copy and lays the foundation for a relationship between a naturalist and a naturalist to be.

Plot Summary: Calpurnia Virginia Tate has six brothers; she is the middle child and only girl.  And her peculiarities don’t stop there.  Although other girls of eleven in 1899 Fentress, Texas are interested in playing piano and the Science of Housewifery, Callie Vee is interested in the natural world.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate follows Callie’s progress as a scientist, and her relationships with her loving but befuddled family, and her increasing bond with her grandfather, a reclusive fellow naturalist.

Critical Evaluation: Nothing much happens in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  The book meanders like a lazy river, and Callie’s life is the passing scenery.  Callie is a wonderful character, with an inquisitive and devious mind.  I loved the idea that she cut her hair at the rate of one inch a week so no one would notice.  I’m also partial to this time period, and to the idea of the frontier (or semi-frontier) in literature.  The relationship between Callie and her grandfather is a heartwarming match between two kindred souls at the opposite ends of life.  Read this book for the themes, characters, and overall tone, rather than for the plot.

Reading Level/Interest: 9 & up
Curriculum Ties: Scientific method, natural world, taxonomy, evolution of ideas
Booktalking Ideas: Lynn Rutan and the Roselle Public Library have each posted short book talks on YouTube.  Additional ideas might include bringing in local naturalists’ photographs or other paraphernalia.

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Challenge Issues: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate does not really have many potential challenge issues.  It does discuss evolution, and does depict a girl who doesn’t easily conform to societal expectations.  However, the 100 year plus removal from the time period may make those a little easier to take for the few parents who might take issue.

About the Author: Jacqueline Kelly grew up in Canada but moved to Texas with her family in time to attend college in the desert heat.  She practiced medicine, moved on to practicing law, and has finally settled as an author of fiction.  More at


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