The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Jacqueline Kelly

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Life is kind of frustrating for Calpurnia Tate. She’s the only girl in the family, smack dab in the middle between three older brothers and three younger. At 12 years old, she’s expected to start acting like a young lady, but Callie isn’t interested in the stuff that her mother thinks a young lady should like, such as playing the piano and cooking and sewing. What she is interested in is grasshoppers. And dogs. And birds. And worms. Callie is interested in science and the world around her, even though no seems willing or able to answer all of the questions she writes down in her Notebook.

Callie suspects if she could get her hands on the copy of Charles Darwin’s recently published and controversial book The Origin of Species, many of her questions would be answered. But no one thinks a young lady in 1899 has any business reading such a scandalous and controversial book - no one, that is, except maybe Callie’s grandfather, a scientist and naturalist himself. While he’s not a fan of children, in general, Callie’s scientific interest and her love of experiments can’t help but make him curious about her - and when they find a plant that might just be a newly discovered species, Callie and her grandfather discover they have a lot more in common than they realized. 

Discussion questions

Spoiler alert! Some of the questions contain key elements of the plot. Do not read if you don't want to know what happens!

  1. Calpurnia’s oldest brother gives her a Notebook to write down some of her scientific questions and observations. Does she write down things that surprise you?
  2. Callie has a different relationship with her grandfather than she does with the other members of her family. How would you describe that relationship? How would you describe her relationship with her mother? Her brothers?
  3. Why do you think Callie’s grandfather takes an interest in her, more so than he does in her brothers?
  4. What similarities do you see between your life today and Calpurnia’s life in 1899? What differences do you see?
  5. When Callie asks different people whether or not they think she will grow up to be a scientist, she gets different answers. At the end of the book do you think she will pursue that goal? Why or why not?
  6. Callie sets out a list of things she would like to see before she dies, including: Harry Houdini, Coney Island, the northern lights, the ocean and snow. What kinds of things would you have on your list?

If you liked this book, try

  • Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm
  • Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brinks
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  • The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall


Apple pie, pecan cookies, peaches, lemonade, or tea.