• Happy birthday Jerry Stanley (Children of the Dustbowl), Raffi (Baby Beluga), and James Cross Giblin (The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler, The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy).
  • In 1776, the bell now known as the Liberty Bell, rang out in Philadelphia, to call the city’s population together for first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Then, on this day in 1835, the Liberty Bell cracks. Read Saving the Liberty Bell by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Marsha Gray Carrington.
  • Happy birthday Paris, founded in 951 A.D. Reread Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
  • In 1941, Nazi Germany requires all Jews in Baltic States to wear a six-pointed star. Read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.
  • It’s Video Game Day (though frankly, for some folks, every day is video game day!) Read Game On!: The Adventures of Daniel Book, Loud Boy by D. J. Steinberg, illustrated by Brian Smith.

Today marks the birthday of Étienne de Silhouette, the French finance minister. In 1759, because of France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years War, he had to impose severe economic demands on the country, particularly the wealthy. Something of an artist, Silhouette enjoyed making cut-paper portraits, and his name became synonymous with these creations. After all, they could be made of anything and executed cheaply.

Although we often say “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” authors, publishers, critics, and readers focus a lot of their attention on the book jacket. It serves as the first advertisement for the book, either drawing in the reader or repelling them. Recently, the silhouette has been getting a lot of front cover exposure in children’s books.

One of the most remarkable adorns the jacket for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, a novel for ages ten through fourteen by Jacqueline Kelly. In cover art created by Beth White, the portrait of a young girl with a butterfly net behind her absolutely begs the reader to open the cover. They will be glad when they do.

Living in Fentress, Texas, in 1899, eleven-year-old Callie Vee doesn’t excel in sewing or cooking, but she has a passion for science. Not really an acceptable calling for a girl in the nineteenth century, but her penchant truly makes her crotchety grandfather happy. He delights in providing Callie with information from a controversial book, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In their outdoor explorations, the two even discover a new plant, which they have scientifically verified by the Smithsonian. Callie’s voice, feisty and engaging, brings readers along in this saga, one that makes science seem like the most exciting passion a girl, or a grandfather, could ever have. The tension between what society and her mother expect of Callie and what she herself longs to do underscores the action of the novel. Callie emerges as an engaging young girl, whom readers want to succeed.

So, happy birthday Finance Minister de Silhouette. Just like Callie Vee, you demonstrated that unlikely contributions can come from those people society expects to act differently. Both you and Callie Vee remind us to hold on to our passion and our dreams.

Here’s a passage from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate:

My first recorded notes were of the dogs. Due to the heat, they lay so still in the dirt as to look dead. Even when my young brothers chivvied them with sticks out of boredom, they wouldn’t bother to raise their heads. They got up long enough to slurp at the water trough and then flopped down again, raising puffs of dust in their shallow hollows. You couldn’t have roused Ajax, Father’s prize bird dog, with a shot-gun let off a foot in front of his muzzle. He lay with his mouth lolling open and let me count his teeth. In this way, I discovered that the roof of a dog’s mouth is deeply ridged in a backwards direction down his gullet, in order no doubt to encourage the passage of struggling prey in one direction only, namely that of DINNER. I wrote this in my Notebook.


Originally posted July 8, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: 19th century, Award Winning, History, Newbery, Science
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


  1. Wow, what a book.

    I love the artwork, I love the content, I love the sensibility, I love the original theme.

    Straight it goes to the top of Read Aloud Dad’s “To Buy” list.

    I love the review – thanks Anita!

    Oh yes, happy birthday Paris!

    Read Aloud Dad

  2. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad: Thanks for the comment — yes, the look of this book really pulls readers, or buyers, in.

  3. Thanks, Anita, for the history on Étienne de Silhouette…I did not have this background and am delighted to learn about it. I love Callie Vee and have given many a gift book to young girls I know – she is my kind of spunky girl!

  4. suzi w. says:

    I’m chilled that today marked Jews in Baltic states having to wear a star. I just finished Snow Treasure–what a wonderful book that was–a different kind of WWII book. Didn’t know the history of Silohoutte–will have to add Calpurnia to my growing list of books to read!

  5. Monica says:

    This book has a special meaning for our family. When it first came out, I read it and loved it, so I did what I usually do in that case, and sent it on to my mother-in-law. She shared it with her sister and their mother, who we all knew as Nana. Nana was a big reader who had trouble reading most print but could read large print and any children’s/YA books with larger print. She absolutely loved Calpurnia, even comparing the book to her favorite book, Anne of Green Gables, which she credits with starting her love of reading as a child. I decided to find out more about the author, if she was working on anything else, and found Jacqueline Kelly’s facebook page. I mentioned on there how much Nana loved the book, and she asked for her name and address. A week later, a little note arrived for Nana, from Ms. Kelly. For the next few years, Nana would tell me how that was the best moment of her life, receiving that note. She passed away this Spring, but we’ll never forget Calpurnia Tate and the kindness of Jacqueline Kelly.

  6. Joyce Sidman says:

    Loved this bit of history, and I love this book. The cover definitely drew me in, but most of all I fell in love with the voice of Calpurnia. Was so happy when it won a Newbery Honor.

  7. G.Perry says:

    I’ve seen this book in bookstores, but I really didn’t grasp what it was about, and I absoutely had no idea it was about a child evolving, as well as evolution. THIS, is fantastic!

    You mention evolution around my part of the world and people will sometimes, stop, turn, and look at you like you’re dangerous. I’ve actually had people turn my copies of Harry Potter around so the spin can’t be read, which reminds me of The Last Child in the Woods book quote about not knowing natural history and going to the beach.You see almost nothing.

    I’ve just ordered this book, and you know what, I’m going to darn well park it right next to my first edition version of On The Origian of Species.

    What a website!

  8. Ellen Levine says:

    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is one of those splendid books that one goes back to over and over. Thanks for highlighting it!

  9. Anita says:

    Thank you all for sharing these wonderful comments today.

  10. Teresa Garrett says:

    I love this book. I grew up in Texas and married a Texan so I can attest that the weather described in the book was spot on. I loved the fact that Callie Vee went out of her way to buck the system and grow up her own way. I was kind of hoping for a sequel. My mother in law is a avid reader and this is one of many books I shared with her that she enjoyed as much as I did. (I thought it ought to be on the state reading list here in Texas.)

  11. Erica S. says:

    I, too, was pulled in by the cover of the book and then absolutely fell in love with what’s inside. Not only did I find the story moving and well-written, but I thought it was hilarious as well. The scene with the turkeys and the little brother had me laughing out loud! Definitely my new favorite heroine.

  12. VR says:

    As a pre-service teacher, I am reading this book with my 11 year old son this summer. I too was drawn to the cover with it’s intricate details. The story is absolutely intriguing as well. It’s rich in naturalistic details as well as historical information not to mention how round Calpurnia and her grand father’s characters are. I particularly like the way how Jacqueline Kelly incorporates Darwin’s theory of evolution and meshes it with Calpurnia’s own evolution. This is one text I definitely plan to use with my students in a classroom setting.

  13. G. Perry says:

    By the way, I have read this book now and I absolutlely love it. It’s one of the many great life-time treasures Anita introduced me to, along with such gems as The Saturdays. I just can’t imagine not having books like these in your life and many of the books reviewed on this site are now within close permanent reach of this reader.

  14. Bookjeannie says:

    Anita: Our staff book club read this & we all loved it, many comparing it to Anne of Green Gables. I listened to it on audio & so enjoyed it. One of the treats for me was thinking about how my mother lived around this time and felt I was getting glimpses into her childhood. It would make an excellent class read aloud as well. 5 stars!

  15. Karen Boss says:

    When I was half-way through this book last spring, I emailed Jacqueline Kelly to thank her for it. It is that good. I loved every moment of this story, of Callie, of her grandfather. It is beautifully written and as you highlight – beautifully designed. Another Henry Holt book, Charles and Emma, about the Darwins, sports a similarly designed cover – which I love. The books came out only months apart and I think the cover designs provide a lovely way to link them together. They would make a handsome pair on a bookshelf – not to mention two great reads! Anyway, thanks for including this on the Almanac!

  16. S.M. Olson says:

    Sounds like a great book for showcasing a strong female heroine. Thanks for the great review – this is defInitely going onto my to read list.

  17. Mary D says:

    Thanks for highlighting this book again. I bought it the first time I saw it here and put it away for my granddaughter “when she is old enough for it.” She’s almost there, so I will bring it forward on the shelf. I have done this with other books you have featured as well. I tell my daughter and son I am vetting the books for them before giving them to the kiddies, but of course, that’s only half the story. I love reading them myself.

  18. Anita says:

    Thanks Mary for the comment. Glad you are taking such an interest in your granddaughter’s reading. I owe my love of books to my own grandmother.

  19. G. Perry says:

    Coincidentally, I started reading this book two days ago for the second time.

    It’s even better second time around. it’s going to be around for a long time.

    I’ve recommended this book to quite a few both adults and children, and the feedback is always overwhelmingly positive.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.