**As of 1/20/12 I have revised this review in order to clarify some of the issues raised in it, CC.

Calpurnia Tate is eleven years old and lives in Texas in the year 1899. Her interest in observing nature brings her to the attention of her cantankerous grandfather, who is an avid naturalist. Grandfather lends Calpurnia his copy of Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’, and the two of them explore and study and document nature specimens like professionals.

Darwin’s writings are mainly used to fuel Calpurnia’s interest in nature and her investigation into how things work, but are not explored in depth. Evolution itself is only mentioned in the title of the book, which could spark an interest in young readers in finding out more about it. I am not an expert on this topic, but as I understand it evolution is neither a proved nor a disproved theory, and is compatible with Christianity as long as there is room for God as its orchestrator. Since none of this is explored in the book itself it would be up to parents to explore it with young readers as they see fit.

In a time when girls were predominantly guided into housewifery and science was primarily the realm of men, Calpurnia finds it hard to devote as much time to science as she would like. Her grandfather, while supporting her scientific interest, helps her to be reasonable about learning to cook and sew, since these are helpful things for everyone to know. While Cally’s mother is rather one-sided and considers that the only place for her daughter is in the home, it is the opinion of her grandfather that carries the most weight in the story and in my opinion he is right: Cally could both foster her interest in science and learn to be more competent in the home.

There are lovely relationships, Calpurnia with her older and younger brothers, with her best friend, and of course with her grandfather. There’s also a comical chapter on her elder brother’s interest in a young lady, an interest that Calpurnia does all she can to thwart – she’s his own pet after all. And another cute discussion of the ‘law’ that says one must kiss one’s husband or wife, Cally and her friend discuss that it must be nice or people wouldn’t do it, but neither of them like the sound of it. 

There’s not a great deal of character development, and I found the story quaint and interesting but a little lacking in heart. Yet I would recommended it for young, avid readers who love to learn new things, because I think that a child reading it who has the opportunity to discuss it in a balanced way with an adult should have no problem with the issues introduced. I’m not sure if some adults would take advantage of it to expound a godless evolution or a radical women’s lib, but I think that would be an unfair use of the book. I’m keen to hear other readers’ thoughts on it, so please have a say below.

Clare Cannon is editor of www.GoodReadingGuide.com and is the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.

Clare Cannon lives in Sydney where she is editor of The Good Reading Guide and manager of Portico Books,...