Last-but-one: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly


When I first read this book, I was so captivated by the story that I actually took the time to painstakingly copy out the cover, minus a couple of details. Calpurnia Tate was an entirely relatable character, and I loved her. This is the second time one of my picks is a Newberry Honor award-winning book, which just goes to show that the blokes who select books for these fancy-shmancy awards have great taste.

Calpurnia is a spunky eleven-year-old, unlucky enough to be the only girl in a house of howling, flea-ridden monkeys. I mean, brothers. (But they amount to nearly the same thing, don’t they?). Her mother moans about the heat, and the same way that an ostrich sticks it’s ball-shaped head into the ground, she refuses to leave the house. So when Calpurnia, or Callie, leaves the house on expeditions to the nearby river, nobody questions or follows her. In fact, it’s as if the whole town is in quarantine- suffering from the disease of high temperatures.

Calpurnia is alone in her pursuit of bugs, and the green-and-yellow grasshoppers on her lawn. It is an endeavour any naturalist worth his salt would approve of.

Callie’s grandfather also lives with them, and he’s something of a crusty old man. He’s gruff, and holds himself aloof from the rest of the household. But due to the inactiveness of the rest of the family, Callie gradually begins spending time with this man, who is about as much like her father as a caterpillar resembles a cow.

It turns out, Calpurnia’s grandfather is a naturalist worth his salt, and he approves of her curiostiy about the grasshoppers on her lawn. He begins accompanying her on her expeditions to the river.

In the end, Calpurnia accepts the inevitable. She, Calpurnia Tate, must evolve so she can survive her changing environment. That means, eventually, she’ll have to start acting “lady-like”, and subject herself to that uniquely feminine brand of torture- the corset. But she knows that she isn’t going to give up Science to be a lady, and that frank truth is both exciting and relieving.

Today, our circumstances aren’t quite so restricting as Calpurnia’s were, but there is not one among us who has never felt the binds that keep us from being who we are, or doing what we want. Maybe we all need to evolve a little.


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