Rummanah Aasi
  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was nominated for the Newberry Award in 2010. It has received several glowing reviews from a variety of book review journals. It also has been in my to be read pile for quite some time. Luckily for me, the book was also listed in the Rebecca Caudill booklist. After finishing, the book deserves all of its accolades.


Description (from Goodreads): 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 plot line, 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.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Curriculum Connection: Science 

Words of Caution: There is some discussion on evolution and Charles Darwin, an incident where Callie drinks an alcoholic beverage without knowing what it is, other than that, it is very clean. Recommended for Grades 4 and up.

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
8 Responses
  1. Lauren M Says:

    This book sounds quite interesting! I love when middle grade books can be sophisticated and still age-appropriate. :) Great review!


  2. BookQuoter Says:

    I read this last year and loved it. I am so glad you liked it too!!


  3. Ive alwasys wondered what this novel was about, the cover is just beautiful. I have a middle-grader who might enjoy it!!


  4. Jenny Says:

    There have been a couple of books I've read where there hasn't been an easily definable plot but rather just focuses on character interactions, and when that's done well I always get sucked in to the book:) Beautiful review Rummanah!


  5. I've heard of the title, but never actually read what it's about or the synopsis. I'm glad you enjoyed it, it looks like a pretty good read for my sister! Thanks for the review, Rummanah!


  6. My mom has been going on and on about this book! She picked it up in one of her class book orders last year. I am going to read it once school starts and I have some free time : Great review! I like how you recommend other books with your review :)


  7. Small Review Says:

    I've had this one on my TBR for a while now, but I think yours is the first review I've read. I don't mind a book that has a skimpier plot if I connect strongly with the characters.


  8. Lauren: Yep, this one isn't your typical MG read.

    BookQuoter: Glad you enjoyed it too!

    Tina: Me too. I thought it would be hard to get into, but it caught my interest fairly quickly.

    Jenny: I fell in love with her family and their daily lives. It's very episodic in that way.

    Hafsah: I hope your sister enjoys it as much I did!

    Natalie: Aww, thanks. Since I work in the library, people are always looking for readalikes. I hope you do get a chance to read the book!

    Small Review: Me neither. The characters totally stole the show!


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