“The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” by Jacqueline Kelly

“The only question, really, is how are we to spend the brief time that is allotted us?” asks Callie V’s grandfather.

Apparently, Jacqueline Kelly, author of the charming and Newberry Honor book “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate”(ages 8 -12), has decided to fill her time working as both a doctor and lawyer while also, in her seemingly plentiful spare time, turning out this first novel that was awarded the Newberry Honor.  Oh please.

Despite my extreme envy and annoyance with Ms. Kelly and her many accomplishments, I am forced to admit that I totally, truly and completely adore Ms. Callie V and found myself quite sad as I came to the end of her story.  And that’s usually the best barometer of how much you truly enjoy a book.

Charles Darwin's "Tree of Life"

“Growing up with six brothers in rural Texas in 1899, 12-year-old 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.

After they discover an unknown species of vetch, he attempts to have it officially recognized. This process creates a dramatic focus for the novel, though really the main story here is Callie’s gradual self-discovery as revealed in her vivid first-person narrative. By the end, she is equally aware of her growing desire to become a scientist (The Origin of the Species by Darwin had just been published) and of societal expectations that make her dream seem nearly impossible.


Interwoven with the scientific theme are threads of daily life in a large family—the bonds with siblings, the conversations overheard, the unspoken understandings and misunderstandings—all told with wry humor and a sharp eye for details that bring the characters and the setting to life. The eye-catching jacket art, which silhouettes Callie and images from nature against a yellow background, is true to the period and the story. Many readers will hope for a sequel to this engaging, satisfying first novel.” (Booklist)

I do!  Me, me, me.  Sign me up on Amazon now for the pre-order of a much wished for sequel.


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