The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Description: 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.

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a delightful book that crosses a wide variety of genres: coming of age, historical fiction, and even feminism. Calpurnia, more commonly called Callie by friends and family, is a spunky, adventurous, and curious girl. You would most likely find her out in the fields with her journal detailing the insects and other species she’d encounter rather than hosting parties at home. Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899,  Callie realizes that her aversion to needlework and cooking disappoints her mother. Still, she prefers to spend her time exploring the river, observing animals, and keeping notes on what she sees. Callie’s growing interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather, an amateur naturalist of some distinction. I absolutely loved Callie’s grandfather who is incredibly funny with his one liners and has impeccable comedic timing.
After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, especially with how Callie mother inspects her to grow up to be: a woman who is to be married and uphold her own family. While the scientific observations are interwoven with the daily life of Callie, the main focus of the book is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. While some become bored with the book’s lack of a plotline, I was immediately taken by Callie’s family and friends. Her bonds with her siblings, the conversations she overhears, and the meddlings that Callie gets herself into are all told wry humor, warmth that allows the characters and its setting come to life. While the book doesn’t dismiss domestic work as unnecessary or demeaning, it allows young girls to realize that they should not restrict their talents and dreams to society’s expectations. Callie is admirable and a role model that I think many young girls would like. I, for one, would love to have her as my friend.

If you like this book try: Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman, Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler, Kevin Cannon, and Xander Cannon

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