Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

I am always looking for audio books that my kids and I can listen to while driving to and from appointments. We all seem to prefer our “stories” to music on drives longer than ten minutes or so. A friend recommended The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. I read the back of it and it sounded boring, but the friend gave it such rave reviews, we tried the story anyway.

The book was wonderful. Both of my children kept asking for the story the second we got in the car, and they even requested that we bring the CDs into the house and listen to them inside, forsaking computer games and television. I enjoyed the story about as much as my children did, and so did my husband.

The summary

The story is about a girl named Calpurnia Tate and takes place at the turn of the century, from the summer of 1899 to 1900 that is. Calpurnia gets her grandfather, a naturalist, to mentor her, and they study nature together while forming a wonderful relationship. Calpurnia has older brothers and younger brothers and she is the only girl, so her mother keeps trying to make her do girl things, like knit and bake. Calpurnia hates those things and lives for time with her grandfather. She even makes her way through Darwin’s Origin of Species, which was an adventure in and of itself.

Potential discussions with your children regarding this book abound.

Darwin, Evolution, and the Origin of Species

When Calpurnia tries to check out this book from the library, she cannot. The librarian thinks it is not a good book for a child to read and asks her if she asked her parents’ permission. Calpurnia eventually gets the book from her grandfather. Why did the librarian make it difficult for Calpurnia to get the book? Why is the book looked on poorly by society? What does her grandfather think of the book?


Life was different in Calpurnia’s time. Her family was very happy when they got a fan. She tried cola for the first time at a state fair. Her grandfather and her saw an automobile at the state fair. They weren’t common yet. What would it be like to live without our current technology?


What is a mutant and how is the word used in a scientific context? A mutant is an organism that displays previously unseen traits. Most mutant traits are not beneficial and the organism dies before it can breed that trait. Some of these traits survive.

What is a naturalist? A naturalist is a scientist who studies nature. Naturalists are known for their sketches, samples they save, experimentation, and observations they write up.