Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Tags: middle grade, YA, historical fiction, Darwinism, science, family

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


It is the year 1899. In sun-roasted rural Texas, 11-year-old Calpurnia Virginia Tate—better known as Callie Vee—attempts to navigate life with six brothers, a gentile mother, and an enigmatic grandfather who encourages her interest in science, even though the turn of the nineteenth century is no time for a young girl to be thinking about a “man’s occupation.”

While her mother tries valiantly to domesticate her, Calpurnia wants nothing more than to be outside, making naturalistic observations in her journal, catching plant and insect specimens, and helping her grandfather in his experiments. As she watches her older brothers grow up and fall in love, and helps her grandfather discover what could possibly be a new plant species, Callie tries to carve out a place for herself in the heavily masculine world.


Ever reread your beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder boxed set, then wonder where to go from there? Look no further than Jacqueline Kelly’s stunning debut novel, THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE, which will be sure to win the hearts of any reader, whatever their age may be. In turn rip-roaringly funny and poignant, Callie Vee’s story of her struggles and triumph over her oppressors will be sure to stay with you for many weeks.

Calpurnia narrates from an almost distant future time, as if she were an older woman reflecting on her preteen days. While I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, the effect is that Calpurnia’s story will more easily attract older readers—if they aren’t already charmed by Callie Vee’s refreshingly innocent yet determined demeanor. She is the kind of middle-grade protagonist that can charm the pants off of everyone, an ahead-of-her-times young girl without the preaching or drama.

Not to be outdone, Jacqueline Kelly’s writing is just as impressive and genuine. She unwinds the characters’ stories with all the skill, ingenuity, and humor of a far more established character writer. We readers are left chuckling at the Tate family’s escapades and sighing with happiness when things go right.

THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE is definitely a 2009 debut that should not be missed. This is a book that will go far; I can only hope that my review will be just one more tiny little paddle pushing it in your, and the award givers’, direction.

Similar Authors
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Writing: 4/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Henry Holt & Co. / May 2009 - OUT NOW

Thank you, Sarah of Blue Slip Media, and Caroline of Macmillan, for sending me a copy of this wonderful book!


  1. Oh, I'm excited to read this one! I've heard lots of good things about it.

    Great review :)

  2. Such a wonderful title and a wonderful cover. It's nice to read that the book matches up to its potential. Sounds a really fun one.

  3. I've been wondering about this one. I may have to pick it up! Great review!

  4. Nice review! I gave you an award :)

  5. This one is on the Florida Sunshine Reader list, so it's a hot one right now. The cover is so simple and beautiful, it always intrigues me. I love that you compared it to Laura Ingalls Wilder - I read those books to pieces when I was a kid. Now on the ever growing list!

  6. This books sounds so good, thanks for this great review!! I have this book on my Amazon WL.

  7. I won this book from a contest, and I look forward to reading it. I've heard good things about it.

  8. Yay! This look refreshingly different and interesting, and I love the fairytale-like quality of the cover. Definitely adding to my TBR!

  9. The cover caught my eye the other day on Amazon, but I had in fact no idea what it was about. It sounds like such a great book! Great review :)

  10. Calpurnia sounds like someone I could identify with and I like that she comes without the preaching or drama. It looks like a wonderful book.

  11. Thank you for your wonderful review. I really appreciate it. If I can send you some signed bookmarks, please let me know.
    Best wishes,
    Jacqueline Kelly


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