Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly
For ages 12 and up
Henry Holt and Co., 1992   ISBN: 978-0805088410

Calpurnia Tate lives in a big house with her father, mother, grandfather, and her six brothers. It is summertime in 1899 and to say that it is hot is an understatement. It is so hot in fact that everyone is too uncomfortable and tired to keep a close eye on what Callie is doing. Being a clever girl, Callie takes full advantage of this situation, and she spends a good deal of her time floating in the river. She also decides that she is going to be a naturalist. After all, why not?

And so, Callie starts writing down her observations in a notebook. She wonders why dogs have eyebrows and why the cardinals are behaving so strangely. Then Callie notices that there are two kinds of grasshoppers around. Usually there are only small green ones, but this summer there are large yellow ones. No one seems to know where these newcomers came from, and Callie finally decides that she has no choice, she is going to have to ask her frightening grandfather.

Grandfather tells Callie to "figure it out," which is what, in time, Callie does. After much thought she decides that the yellow grasshoppers are a different version of the green ones. They are basically the same animal! Full of excitement, Callie tells her grandfather what she has learned, and he discovers that he has a granddaughter who loves to learn, to question, and to observe.

Thus begins a wonderful summer for Callie. She and her grandfather become good friends, the old man helping his granddaughter to learn the scientific method. He lets her borrow his books – including the controversial Origin of Species – and he encourages Callie to use her mind in new ways. The problem is that Callie lives in a time when people do not believe in educating girls. Will Callie ever be able to pursue her interest in science, or will she be forced to spend her time learning "cookery" and how to tat lace?

In this wonderful title, Jacqueline Kelly tells a story that is funny, thought provoking, and thoroughly addictive. Callie's evolving relationship with her grandfather is fascinating to observe, and the various misadventures that her family members experience are enormously entertaining. One brother falls in love, while another grows too fond of the Thanksgiving dinner turkeys.

Set in a time of great change, this story combines humor, beautiful writing, and unforgettable characters, to give readers a book that they will remember long after the last page is read.