In preparation for the release of The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, I thought I would revisit my review of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. I originally wrote this review a couple of years ago, and I’m happy to share it here today.

I found The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate at my local library. I borrowed the audiobook version after noticing the pretty artwork on the case. I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but yes, sometimes I do judge a book by its cover.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a children’s novel written by Jacqueline Kelly.
The story takes place in the last half of 1899. Calpurnia Tate is an 11-year-old girl who lives on a farm in Texas. She has the misfortune of being the middle child with three older siblings and three younger, and the even greater misfortune of being the only girl. Her family is relatively prosperous though, and Callie has a lot of free time.

Calpurnia is a very curious girl, who wants to know more about the world around her. She has a thirst for knowledge, and in one of our first exposures to Callie, she attempts to check The Origin of Species out of the library. Her efforts are unsuccessful; she is sent on her way, with a threat from the librarian to inform Callie’s mother about what the girl has been up to.

Back on the farm, Callie strikes up a friendship with her grandfather. Captain Tate is a Civil War veteran, and spends his days in his laboratory. When Callie tells him about the incident at the library, Grandpa gives her his own copy of Darwin’s famous book. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Grandpa has ignored his seven grandchildren for years, but he takes Callie on as an assistant. They spend their days traipsing around the hill country, recording their observations.

As the story progresses, Callie falls more and more in love with science, and her mother grows more and more concerned with Callie’s abysmal cooking and sewing skills. Callie is encouraged (read: forced) to spend more time in the kitchen. This is devastating for Callie, who has no desire to be a wife and a mother. She wants to be a scientist.

I found this to be a very sweet coming of age story. Callie is a delightful narrator, and it is hard not to share her enthusiasm for exploring the world around her. Her anecdotes are very funny, and Kelly has painted a very vivid picture of turn of the century life.

My favorite story involves her younger brother Travis falling in love with the Thanksgiving turkeys that he has been put in charge of raising. He is devastated when he realizes that the family really does intend to eat his lovely pets. At Thanksgiving dinner, Travis muses that he would like a pet donkey for Christmas because no one would ever want to eat a sweet little donkey.

This is a very poignant story as well. It’s hard not to feel compassion for Callie, who wants nothing more than to go to the university in Austin, yet she is forced into the kitchen to make pies. I felt frustration for her that things were still unresolved at the end of the book. While the last scene does give a sense of hope, there was not enough closure.

I would recommend The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Callie is a compelling character, and Jacqueline Kelly is a gifted author. Her story draws the reader in, and at times, the prose is breathtakingly exquisite. As of this writing, the Kindle version is on sale for $2.99, but even at a higher price, this is a must-buy. Best of all, the audio can be added for an additional $3.49. My girls love listening to audiobooks in the car, and this might be one of the next selections!

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