The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I loved this book. I’m coming a little late to the party on this one, seeing as how it was a Newbury Honor Book in 2009. I’ve seen it mentioned in various places on the Internet but didn’t really know what it was about. I picked it up on a whim at the library a few weeks ago. Now, I am so smitten that I am planning on using it as John’s first assigned reading for the school year.

What, exactly, was a naturalist? I wasn’t sure, but I decided to spend the rest of my summer being one. If all it meant was writing about what you saw around you, I could do that. p. 8


Feverish moths of various sizes batted against us before launching themselves at the lamps again and again. One of the fuzzy ones got tangled in my fringe and tickled me unbearably. I plucked it from my hair, pulled back the burlap curtain, and chucked it out into the night. It promptly and enthusiastically flew back in my face, as if gusting in on a high wind. I sighed. One thing I had learned for sure: You could not win when it came to the class Insecta, order Lepidoptera.

We would have to make a study of it, my grandfather and I. p. 47-48

Calpurnia Tate is a fiesty heroine in the vein of Anne Shirley or Jo March or Caddie Woodlawn. The book takes place the summer of 1899 when she is eleven years old. Calpurnia is discovering a love of science through the revolutionary ideas of  Charles Darwin and through a new relationship with her grandfather, a self-taught naturalist. The title of the book obviously refers to the grandfather-granddaughter pair’s discoveries and studies but also to Calpurnia’s coming of age as she must navigate her way through her desire to become a scientist and the expectations her mother and society have for her, the only girl in a family of seven boys in a small Texas town at the end of the nineteenth century. 

The nest was the most intricately constructed thing, like something built by the fairies in my childhood tales, I almost said so aloud but caught myself in time. Members of the scientific community did not say such things. p. 33

I’m planning on assigning the book to John because there is a lot to discuss and because the vocabulary is really rich. Also, I think it will make a fantastic go-along with a beginning unit on evolution and the origins of life, something we have only discussed in a very general way. But mostly, I’m going to assign it to him because it’s a fantastic book, a great story with characters that I think he’ll enjoy meeting and getting to know as much as I did.


5 thoughts on “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

    • Hmmm…interesting. I read your review. I think we just viewed the characters differently. I saw the grandfather less as uninvolved and more as the older family member whose interests were kind of belittled by the rest of the family. Calpurnia was the only one interested in him so he responded to her.

      As for the evolution studies…I haven’t fully planned it out. I think I’m going to use the unit study here: and maybe some of the resources at the FaradaySchools website. I have to say I haven’t fully explored the latter, and imagine that theologically it’s perhaps more liberal than we are. However, I think it asks good questions about the relationship between science and religion.

      Also, I come at this from a standpoint of believing in theistic evolution. The Biologos website is probably closest to what I believe. I also plan on reviewing the various other theories about the origins of life (Old Earth, Young Earth, Intelligent Design) but I’ll teach it from a different perspective than if I was an Old Earth Creationist, obviously.

  1. Pingback: June and July Reading | Supratentorial

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