The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
was an unexpected gem hidden away in my “to-read” shelf (my literal one, on a shelf in a closet at home). Calpurnia Tate has quickly become one of my favorite literary characters. There’s a lot to admire in her, and her tomboy-ish, scientifically-minded, and very eleven-year-old voice is brought to life vividly and very realistically.
In the book, Calpurnia is the only daughter of seven children in a home in Texas. It’s 1899, a few decades after Texas was admitted to the Union, and the state is a curious mix of the rural and the refined, the Wild West and genteel society. Calpurnia’s grandfather is a war veteran and an amateur scientist who spends his days by the river and in his laboratory, collecting specimens and working on experiments. He intimidates the children, but Calpurnia finds a special friendship with him once their bond over nature is discovered.
I really loved the description of each of the characters. Each of Callie’s six brothers are a unique character within themselves, the kind of boys everyone wants as a brother. Her parents have their own goals and thoughts, and her grandfather is rough but loving, very intelligent but battle-scarred.
The book itself is very intelligent. Though the intended reading level is probably fifth or sixth grade, there’s no talking down to children here. I imagine if I had read it at ten or eleven I would have been given a lot to think about. Coming of age, the scientific method, American history and family relations are all touched upon. I was left with a sincere hope that Callie’s life will turn out the way she wants it to. I would love to read more about her.