Excerpt: 'Evolution of Calpurnia Tate'

Summer Reads for Teens

Twelve-year-old Callie is more into exploring the river, watching animals and all things outdoors than needlework, which disappoints her mother. The story of a preteen growing up in rural Texas in 1899, "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" explores how Callie's interest in nature creates a bond with her previously distant grandfather and fosters her desire to become a scientist.

Read an excerpt from "The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate" by Jacqueline Kelly below.


When a young naturalist commences the study of a group of organisms quite unknown to him, he is at first much perplexed to determine what differences to consider ... for he knows nothing of the amount and kind of variation to which the group is subject ...
—Darwin, The Origin of Species

By 1899, we had learned to tame the darkness but not the Texas heat. The heat was a misery for all of us, but it was a special ordeal for Mother in her many petticoats and corset. I was still a few years too young for this singular form of feminine torture. That summer she temporarily gave up her hairpieces, the crimped false fringe and the rolled horsehair rat, platforms on which she daily constructed an elaborate mountain of her own hair. Next she took to sticking her head under the kitchen pump and letting Viola, our quadroon cook, pump away until she was soaked through. We were forbidden by sharp orders to laugh at this unprecedented and astonishing entertainment. As Mother gradually surrendered her dignity to the heat, we discovered (as did Father) that it was best to keep out of her way.

Yes, the heat was a misery, but it also brought me freedom. From noon until three, while the rest of the family lay down in the dim, high-ceilinged rooms of our shuttered house, I headed for the river and enjoyed three whole hours every day of no school, no pestiferous brothers, and no Mother.

My name is Calpurnia Virginia Tate, but most everyone called me Callie Vee. That summer I was eleven years old, the only girl out of seven children. Can you imagine a worse situation? I was spliced midway between three older brothers, Harry, Sam Houston, and Lamar, and three younger brothers, Travis, Sul Ross, and the baby, Jim Bowie whom we called J.B. The younger boys did manage to sleep at midday, sometimes piled atop one another like damp steaming puppies. My Father doused himself with a bucket of tepid well water on the sleeping porch and fell onto his rope bed as if pole-axed. Mother loosened her stays and sprinkled her sheets with cologne but this was only refreshing for a minute or two.

While everyone else tossed and dozed, I made my way down to the banks of the San Marcos River. I got away with this because I had my own room at the far end of the hall from my parents. My brothers all had to share rooms. As far as I could tell, this was the one advantage to being the only girl.

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