Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Narrator: Natalie Ross
Discs/CDs: 8 CDs, 9 hours and 6 minutes
Pages: 349 pages
Publisher/Date: Brillance Audio, Henry Holt and Co., 2009.
Being the only girl in the family, falling smack in the middle of six older and younger brothers, Calpurnia Virginia Tate is her mother’s only hope of raising a proper girl. Callie however despises knitting and darning and all those other homely crafts, and would much rather spend time recording her observations of the world around her in her notebook. This pursuit for knowledge leads her to finally approach her reclusive grandfather, who is an amateur scientist trying to make his own mark on society. Forging a friendship that no one ever expected to succeed, Callie and her grandfather work tirelessly in the fields and surrounding forest, hoping to stumble upon a discovery of scientific significance. Will Callie’s mother’s plans for her derail their investigations, or will her big plans for the new century come to fruition?
Personally I really enjoyed this book, although there were some parts that I liked more than others. Callie is a very precocious twelve-year-old, wise beyond her years. She does appear slightly over-emotional towards the end, which I think is out of character for someone with so much intuition about the scientific and societal world around her. While she was very well-developed, her brothers weren’t delineated very well, as the only one who I was ever able to keep straight was Henry, the oldest and the one Callie got along with the best.
Another quibble is the language, but I guess it’s really not that huge of a quibble to begin with. Kelly’s word choices and Ross’s prim and proper narration makes Callie sound older than eleven/twelve (she has a birthday within the book). It was a refreshing change of pace, considering how many books are trying to capture the tone and speech patterns of today’s teens. I do wonder how accurate the portrayal was and how modern-day readers would react to someone who responds to their parents with “Yes, Ma’am” and “No sir” and considers “darn” a swear word. If the shoe was on the other foot, I have to wonder how Callie would react to today’s teens.
Otherwise, it’s a fascinating and unobtrusive way to teach and study Darwin, and it most certainly puts it in cultural context. Callie is not allowed to check out Darwin’s book from the library without a note from her mother, and has never seen a microscope. The one and only telephone is installed in the town, for which they hire *gasp* a woman to serve as the operator. Calpurnia and her family see their very first automobile at the fair, and Coca-Cola has just come on the market for a nickel. The details put things in perspective of how new this concept of Darwin’s theory was when it was first published.
Overall verdict is a detailed account of life at the turn of the century, which I think is why it received the Newbery Honor. While it might be a difficult sell for adventurous boys, I think one reviewer was correct in saying that it would appeal to girls who enjoyed the Little House on the Praire series. The cover might just draw others in who enjoy tomboy stories and are looking for a younger version of Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.