The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly, published 2009
“Granddaddy and I sat motionless for a good five minutes and then quietly collected our things and moved on. On the way back, he spotted the rarest and most delicate object in the wild, an old hummingbird’s nest, fragile and expertly woven, smaller than an eggcup.”
Imagine a children’s book which mixes together life in a rural southern town in 1899, a big dose of Charles Darwin, the natural world, and the coming of age of a young girl. If you think this is an implausible mixture for a children’s book, you are both right and wrong. The book is a lovely piece of children’s literature, rich with beautiful language, intense love of the natural world, and honest descriptions of life at the turn of the 20th century. At the same time, I am not certain which children will fall in love with this book, despite it’s worthiness. Yet, it is such a good children’s book that if it found it’s way to the one young girl who should fall in love with it, it would be life-transforming.
Here are some elements in the book that may help you determine if this is the right one for your youngster. First, it has a vast amount of scientific information in it about the natural world, presented in an easy to understand way. So it’s a great book for any budding scientists, naturalists, botanists, or biologists. Second, it very clearly portrays early pioneering life in Texas in 1899. Therefore the book serves as a good historical fiction piece. Finally, we are given a beautiful relationship between a young girl and her family, especially her grandfather, and her brothers. We feel her growing pains and especially her longing to determine her own future, breaking out of the traditions that surround her.
This is the second time I’ve read this particular children’s book, and all I can say is that it is unique, high-quality, and worthy of attention. It is perfect for a twelve-year-old girl ready to become a young woman, though I think some strong readers at age 11 could enjoy it as well. It would also work well in a classroom.