The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written by:  Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia is about to have the most exciting year of her life.  The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia’s sleepy Texas town, and there aren’t a lot of good ways to stay cool.  Her mother has a new wind machine, but instead, Callie’s contemplating cutting off her air, one sneaky inch at a time.  She’s also spending a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist.  But just when Callie and her grandfather are about to make an amazing discovery, the reality of Callie’s situation catches up with her.  She’s a girl at the turn of the century, expected to cook and clean and sew.  What a waste of time!  Will Callie ever find a way to take control of her own destiny?

The summary is from the back of the book by Square Fish Publishers.

This book was a fun, fun surprise!  The back of the book definitely hooked me, but as I started reading I found that I completely forgot what it said.  Calpurnia is a vibrant character that pulls you into her life from the very first page.  It has the perfect feel for 1899 while conquering issues that even today’s kids have about finding yourself and reconciling what parents want for and expect of their children.  The highlights for me were the fact that the siblings get along and that the author focused on more interesting plots than typical sibling rivalry and that every time Calpurnia faced a problem, she acted brilliantly!  There weren’t any situations where I thought, “Well, everybody knows that is ridiculous and it’s going to turn out badly.”  Anyone who loves a smart, charismatic, intensely curious character will love this book!

Discussion/Project Ideas:

1.  Let me first say that I am in no way taking on the Darwin debate in school!  This project, however, stems from the time period in which Darwin’s theory was introduced.  Throughout history, scientific theories have been introduced and have challenged our ways of thinking.  From thinking the world was flat to thinking the sun revolved around the earth.  Have students choose a scientific theory from the past and research how it was received by the public at that time.  They can write an essay, take sides and hold a debate, or perform a skit depicting their findings.  This is a chance for them to separate their own beliefs and only portray the reactions of the people of the associated time period.

2.  This is a perfect compliment to any science unit on the classification of living things. Have your students choose five samples of living things that they believe to be similar – for example: types of leaves, bugs, birds, rodents, flowers, etc.  Then have them record all their classifications – kingdom, phylum, genus…- and see how related their choices actually are.  Have them create a unique way to display their findings.

3.  In the story, Calpurnia’s mother had a “wind machine”.  Pick an invention of your choice (that had an impact on history) and change the date of invention.  For example, what if the cotton gin was invented 75 years earlier?  What impact might that have had on slavery?  Write a 5 paragraph essay on how you think history would be different.  Give 3 strong, reasonable examples to back up your opinion.

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