A Parent's Book Review: "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate"
My high school science education consisted of the following memories: breaking a flask (not a big deal, the teacher said); breaking a thermometer (kind of a big deal); breaking many other kids of lab equipment (increasingly a big deal); and never (not once) getting the correct results on any physics or chemistry lab despite being studious, careful, and the last to finish pretty much every single time.
I had a mild interest in biology, but I always assumed I was “bad” at science. Despite good grades, which obviously didn’t reflected the trail of broken equipment I left in my wake, it never (NEVER!) occurred to me that I could be good at science.
Then enter college: I took an introductory biology course and fell in love. Bird migration! Ants that farm aphids! These were stories whose magic nobody could ignore. And to the surprise of everyone (especially myself and my professors, who had been wary of me from the first moment I refused to dissect a cat (I mean, really, a cat?), I became a bio major.
Which is why I love this book!
Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Author: Jacqueline Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Middle School and Upper Elementary
So many reasons to get this book for your daughter (and read it yourself!):
1. It’s historical fiction, set in Texas in 1899, but it doesn’t whop you over the head with that fact. There are some interesting details: the first telephone and the woman operator with her long arms, Granddaddy sitting in a car for the first time, etc. But the historical fiction gives you, the parent, an edge: You can talk about societal expectations for girls, and your child will likely be very comfortable talking about them in the book, as it was over 100 years ago. Then, once the conversation gets going, you can talk about how things have changed, but how we still have a long way to go.
2. It’s a science-nature story, but you don’t have to be a scientist to like this book. Any girl reader who enjoys character-driven books will like this one. And they will be getting a great female scientist role model on the side! It’s mostly a girl-growing-up story, and this girl, the only one amongst many brothers, is struggling against the expectations of her family (she’s supposed to learn to sew and cook or how will she ever get a family?), wondering if she might ever be allowed to have dreams beyond that.
And if your girl does get hooked on science after reading this book, don’t let it die out! Give her a field guide and start looking up plants or insects or birds or stars. Or grab some jars and start collecting bugs.
3. The book is beautiful. The sentences read like honey dripping down … well, dripping down something honey would drip down. Trust me, the prose is gorgeous. And that’s good for anyone. (And it is a Newbery Honor book. So there.)
P.S. I did sit through only one dissection. There was this guy in high school who would spend free time working on his frog for AP Bio, and I would hang out and watch him. It was probably disgusting. Maybe unethical. But in his defense, he’s a surgeon now. And in my defense, I’m married to him.
About the Author:
Wendy Lawrence is a Seattle native who is now living with her husband and two young sons in Ann Arbor, Mich. A longtime educator and former middle school head at Eastside Prep in Kirkland, she now blogs about parenting and books at The Family That Reads Together.