The book is set in a small Texan town (Fentress) that is prone to chronic heat waves. The town is surrounded by greenery, farms and fields. Callie Vee (Calpurnia Tate) often explores San Marcos River. The river was separated from her house by a crescent-shaped field of five acres of feral, uncleared woods. There is a thin, clear path created by dogs, deer and other animals. There are high bushes of sticky burrs. There are “bags” of webworms above the river like a canopy of oaks and high bushes. Around Calpurnia’s house there are hundreds of insects that gather around the porch (grasshoppers, fireflies, spiders etc.).
Callie Vee’s Grandfathers’ Laboratory
The Laboratory is really just a shed that used to be part of old slave quarters. Instead of a door there is an old tan burlap flap. Scattered around the laboratory there are various beakers filled with peculiar smelling liquids (from Callie’s grandfathers “experiments” on how to distill pecans into whiskey) in assorted colors. There is a large ruined armchair with stuffing oozing out of it. Further into the laboratory there is a library, a dim room with heavy velvet green drapes and a tall double window. Next to the window there is huge leather armchair and a table with a reading lamp. There are books stacked and scattered on the floor and in pecan wood bookshelves. There is a large oak desk with strange random objects on it: a blown ostrich egg on a carved wooden stand, a microscope, a carved whale’s tooth etc. The walls are covered in formal portraits of Callie’s ancestors, and labeled shallow glass cases displaying different insects. There is a black bearskin rug camouflaged on the floor in the array of books, research papers, specimens etc.
Calpurnia Virginia Tate (Callie Vee Tate)
Callie Vee is almost 12 years old (Eleven and Three Quarters). She had (she secretly began snipping it off during the summer, against her mothers’ will) blonde hair down to her back and brown eyes. She plays piano (taught by Mrs. Brown) like her brother Sam Houston. She carries with her a red leather note-book where she records her scientific observations. She’s very curious, intelligent and ambitious, she loves figuring out why things happen (ex. why some grasshoppers are yellow and others green, why dogs have eyebrows, how to trick earthworms into thinking it’s raining etc.) and she adores Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Throughout the book she had developed an unbreakable bond with her grandfather (her grandfather often ignores his other grandchildren) over nature and science. She dislikes the idea of housework, is awful at cooking, sewing and knitting. She would like to go to university and study to be a scientist.
Walter Tate (Callie’s paternal grandfather)
Walter Tate had turned over the family business (pecan fields) to his son (Albert Tate, Callie’s father). He has a long, tumbling white beard, that unlike the other men in the family he does not shave off during the summer. He wears spectacles that shield his small, intelligent eyes. He is an avid naturalist and scientist, and an ex-commanding officer. He enjoys sitting in his laboratory experimenting with distilling pecans into whiskey. Throughout the book he teaches Callie Vee the scientific names of all the plants and animals they encounter, how to collect specimens of different organisms and how to record her observations in a detailed manner. In Chapter 26 he reveals he fears he will die soon, as he is very old. He is a man of regular and moderate habits and never takes whiskey before noon.
Harry Tate (Callie’s older Brother)
Harry Tate is tall, dark-haired, charming and charismatic. He is 17 years old and when he turns 18 his mother has plans for him to go to university (in Austin). He used to play piano and was taught by the same piano teacher as Callie. He is the only one of her brothers who Callie actually likes and often seeks advice from him and trusts him with her thoughts and feelings. He is the kindest of her 6 brothers and goes out of him way to make her smile (eg. Giving her a red leather note book to record scientific observations in) He calls Callie his “pet” (as a term of endearment). He had a girlfriend named Minerva Goodacre (Callie Vee did not approve of her and was extremely upset when she found out about her because she felt Minerva was replacing her in Harry’s life) but eventually broke up with her. He is a responsible and caring brother.