Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven-years-old in the year 1899, a time when girls are expected to confine themselves to cooking, knitting, and tatting (lace-making), at the same time wearing corsets tight enough to cause spontaneous fainting.
Much to her mother’s dismay, Callie Vee finds less feminine interests that excessively hot, dry summer. Callie notices a new kind of big, yellow grasshopper. The usually common emerald ones have become scarce. She wonders why.
She does an experiment where twice a day she pours water on the parched ground in one particular spot to watch the earthworms come to the surface. After only 4 days the worms, drawn by her footsteps, rise up even before she pours the water. How do they learn?
The world is exploding with wonders. An expertly a woven hummingbird nest, tent caterpillar webs, giant catfish, dog eyebrows, and much much more!
Callie’s oldest brother Harry gives her a notebook to record her observations as well as her questions. He tells her she’s a budding naturalist! But what is a naturalist? When Callie keeps bugging Henry with her natural mysteries, he finally says, “Go ask Grandfather, he knows that sort of thing.”
Grandfather lives with the family, yet he’s apart. He’s the farmer/businessman who built the cotton-based foundation of their fine life, but he’s no longer interested in business. Nowadays he prefers to tinker in his “laboratory” letting Callie’s father and six brothers continue the legacy.
Yes, Grandfather knows “that sort of thing,” but he’s… well… he’s scary! When Callie’s curiosity gets to be too much, she does ask Grandfather, and that’s when an incredible friendship begins, as well as a partnership in science.
Each chapter begins with a quote from Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, which Callie is struggling to read. While some readers may find that off-putting, I urge you consider that the study of nature and science is yet another way to honor God’s work. Evolution might just be God’s way of creating. And who can say how long a day lasted back before there was a sun for defining morning and night?
Jacqueline Kelly’s first novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, is also a 2010 Newberry award winner, and it’s easy to see why. Not only is it filled with the wonder and joy of nature, but human comedies and dramas as well -- Henry’s courting fiasco, Callie’s tatting entry at the fair, the wonderful friendship between Callie and her gruff old grandfather.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is recommended for ages 9 – 13, and those of us who continue to be young at heart, and ever so curious.