The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Written By: Jacqueline Kelly


For parents of independent readers, we provide a set of questions that should give you insight into what your child is reading and help you engage him/her in meaningful conversations about literature. We recommend using the questions provided here as a springboard for deeper conversation about The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and what your child takes away from the book. Enjoy!


In 1899, young ladies are expected to learn domestic skills such cooking, cleaning and sewing in order to prepare for lives as housewives, but Calpurnia Tate has other ideas. She is far more interested in learning about science and nature, preferring to take notes on rivers and animals that she observes. When she discovers two different types of grasshoppers in her lawn, she sets off in search for a copy of Charles Darwin’s newly released book, The Origin of Species. She finds a copy in her grandfather’s study, and when she presents her observations about the grasshoppers, they begin working together to learn more. All the while, Calpurnia tries to balance her research with the domestic lessons from her mother in an attempt to satisfy her desires as well as the expectations that society has of her.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the author begin each chapter? How is the quote for the first chapter relevant to the beginning of the story?
  2. How is the world that Calpurnia lives in different from the world that you live in today? How are they similar?
  3. Being a girl in 1899 means that Calpurnia is supposed to learn how to cook, clean and become a lady, but she is more interested in science and nature. How does she feel about these expectations that have been placed on her? What are some expectations that people have of you? Are these expectations related to your gender or age? Do you feel the same way that Calpurnia does? Why or why not?
  4. Describe the evolution of Calpurnia’s relationship with her grandfather. Why does he take such an interest in her?
  5. Calpurnia is incredibly interested in Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species. To learn more about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, play this game Who Wants To Live A Million Years, which teaches you about his theory of natural selection and lets you try to create a species that can survive with trait mutations.
  6. For more questions to discuss, refer to the back of the book, where the author has provided additional questions that discuss specific events in the story and their relevance to the story as a whole.

Above all, be sure to engage your child in a discussion about the plot line and his/her thoughts and feelings about the book. Ask what s/he likes, encourage exploration related to the book, and every now and again, offer to read parts of the book aloud, just for fun!