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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Cover of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Calpurnia Tate Series, Book 1

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.

Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.

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  • Available:
    0
  • Library copies:
    1
Levels-
  • ATOS:
    5.3
  • Lexile:
    830
  • Interest Level:
    MG
  • Text Difficulty:
    4 - 5

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Awards-
Excerpts-
  • Copyright © 2009 by Jacqueline Kelly.

    Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Company.

    All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly...

    Chapter 1 The Origin Of Species

    When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine what differences to consider . . . for he knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group is subject. . . .

    BY 1899, WE HAD LEARNED to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. We arose in the dark, hours before sunrise, when there was barely a smudge of indigo along the eastern sky and the rest of the horizon was still pure pitch. We lit our kerosene lamps and carried them before us in the dark like our own tiny wavering suns. There was a full day’s work to be done before noon, when the deadly heat drove everyone back into our big shuttered house and we lay down in the dim high-ceilinged rooms like sweating victims. Mother’s usual summer remedy of sprinkling the sheets with refreshing cologne lasted only a minute. At three o’clock in the afternoon, when it was time to get up again, the temperature was still killing.

    The heat was a misery for all of us in Fentress, but it was the women who suffered the most in their corsets and petticoats. (I was still a few years too young for this uniquely feminine form of torture.) They loosened their stays and sighed the hours away and cursed the heat and their husbands, too, for dragging them to Caldwell County to plant cotton and acres of pecan trees. Mother temporarily gave up her hairpieces, a crimped false fringe and a rolled horsehair rat, platforms on which she daily constructed an elaborate mountain of her own hair. On those days when we had no company, she even took to sticking her head under the kitchen pump and letting Viola, our quadroon cook, pump away until she was soaked through. We were forbidden by sharp orders to laugh at this astounding entertainment. As Mother gradually surrendered her dignity to the heat, we discovered (as did Father) that it was best to keep out of her way.

    My name is Calpurnia Virginia Tate, but back then everybody called me Callie Vee. That summer, I was eleven years old and the only girl out of seven children. Can you imagine a worse situation? I was spliced midway between three older brothers—Harry, Sam Houston, and Lamar—and three younger brothers—Travis, Sul Ross, and the baby, Jim Bowie, whom we called J.B. The little boys actually managed to sleep at midday, sometimes even piled atop one another like damp, steaming puppies. The men who came in from the fields and my father, back from his office at the cotton gin, slept too, first dousing themselves with tin buckets of tepid well water on the sleeping porch before falling down on their rope beds as if poleaxed.

    Yes, the heat was a misery, but it also brought me my freedom. While the rest of the family tossed and dozed, I secretly made my way to the San Marcos River bank and enjoyed a daily interlude of no school, no pestiferous brothers, and no Mother. I didn’t have permission to do this, exactly, but no one said I couldn’t. I got away with it because I had my own room at the far end of the hall, whereas my brothers all had to share, and they would have tattled in a red-hot second. As far as I could tell, this was the sole decent thing about being the only girl.

    Our house was separated from the river by a crescentshaped parcel of five acres of wild, uncleared growth. It would have been an ordeal to push my way through it except that the regular river patrons—dogs, deer, brothers—kept a narrow path beaten down through the treacherous sticker burrs that rose as high as my head and snatched at my hair and pinafore as I folded myself narrow to...

About the Author-
  • Jacqueline Kelly won the Newbery Honor for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, her first book. She was born in New Zealand and raised in Canada, in the dense rainforests of Vancouver Island. Her family then moved to El Paso, Texas, and Kelly attended college in El Paso, then went on to medical school in Galveston. After practicing medicine for many years, she went to law school at the University of Texas, and after several years of law practice, realized she wanted to write fiction. Her first story was published in the Mississippi Review in 2001. She now makes her home with her husband and various cats and dogs in Austin and Fentress, Texas.



Reviews-
  • DOGO Books snicker9 - This was an interesting story about a young girl in the early 1900's who is learning her place in the world. In this story Calpurunia is the only girl in a family with six brothers. As she comes to understand her grandfather as a teacher, she also struggles with her mother. Her mother wants her to become a domesticated wife, who knows how to sew, cook, knit, etc. But Calpurinia is not interested in these things at all. She just wants to study science and nature with her grandfather, and maybe become a scientist herself, not a housewife. As Calpurnia tries to keep her family together she learns lessons of trust and self-confidence, and being who you really are inside. I recommend this book to older people, however there aren't any action scenes, and some people may become bored with the storyline if they do not enjoy this type of book, setting in the past.
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from May 4, 2009
    Life at the turn of the century is not easy for a girl who loves books and science. Kelly's first novel presents spirited heroine Calpurnia (Callie) Virginia Tate, a middle child with six brothers, growing up in the isolation of Fentress, Tex., in 1899. To her family's dismay, Callie is stubborn, independent and not interested in darning socks or perfecting her baking skills like a lady. “I would live my life in a tower of books,” she thinks to herself. She spends most of her time with Harry, “the one brother who could deny me nothing,” slowly befriending her Granddaddy, a mysterious naturalist who studies everything from pecan distillation to microscopic river bugs. Together they dream up experiments and seek answers to backyard phenomena, discovering something new about the invisible world each day. Callie follows her passion for knowledge, coming to realize her family “had their own lives. And now I have mine
    .” Callie's transformation into an adult and her unexpected bravery make for an exciting and enjoyable read. Kelly's rich images and setting, believable relationships and a touch of magic take this story far. Ages 10–up.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from May 1, 2009
    Gr 5-8-A charming and inventive story of a child struggling to find her identity at the turn of the 20th century. As the only girl in an uppercrust Texas family of seven children, Calpurnia, 11, is expected to enter young womanhood with all its trappings of tight corsets, cookery, and handiwork. Unlike other girls her age, Callie is most content when observing and collecting scientific specimens with her grandfather. Bemoaning her lack of formal knowledge, he surreptitiously gives her a copy of "The Origin of Species" and Callie begins her exploration of the scientific method and evolution, eventually happening upon the possible discovery of a new plant species. Callie's mother, believing that a diet of Darwin, Dickens, and her grandfather's influence will make Callie dissatisfied with life, sets her on a path of cooking lessons, handiwork improvement, and an eventual debut into society. Callie's confusion and despair over her changing life will resonate with girls who feel different or are outsiders in their own society. Callie is a charming, inquisitive protagonist; a joyous, bright, and thoughtful creation. The conclusion encompasses bewilderment, excitement, and humor as the dawn of a new century approaches. Several scenes, including a younger brother's despair over his turkeys intended for the Thanksgiving table and Callie's heartache over receiving "The Science of Housewifery" as a Christmas gift, mix gentle humor and pathos to great effect. The book ends with uncertainty over Callie's future, but there's no uncertainty over the achievement of Kelly's debut novel."Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA"

    Copyright 2009 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The Horn Book Review Kelly, without anachronism, has created a memorable, warm, spirited young woman who's refreshingly ahead of her time."
  • Shelf Awareness That rare book that will appeal to child and adult alike."--Austin American-Statesman

    "Introduces a turn-of-the-20th-century heroine for modern times."

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