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Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, Illinois and lives now on Vashon Island west of Seattle, Washington. She received an M.A. in human behavior and one in museum studies. Ms. Cushman has had a lifelong interest in history. She says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, presidents. I wanted to know what ordinary life was like for ordinary young people in other times." Research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of her first two novels, the Newbery Honor book CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and the Newbery Medal-winner THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. She is also the author of MATILDA BONE, THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE, RODZINA, and most recently ALCHEMY AND MEGGY SWANN.
"Catherine Called Birdy" is a young adult book in a class of its own. Unlike the petty, superficial novels usually written for children, this book's historical setting and endearing heroine make it a must read for all precocious children who grew up on fairy-tales, etc. Set in The Middle Ages, this novel explores the society of the time and also the conditions of the time including some hilarious insights on the hygiene! When I read this book in 4th grade I was automatically hooked on everything Middle Ages and actually was inspired to do research in my free time! Setting of the book aside, "Birdy" is a wonderful character that many girls will be able to connect with even though they live more than 500 years later. Each diary entry tells you more about this character, which makes her personality more in-depth than other books for this age group. I recommend this book for all ages but especially for girls who are just beginning to choose what kind of books they want to read and have always enjoyed fairy-tale and historical fiction type works. This book has a permanent place on my bookshelf--- right next to the Jane Austen and Charles Dickens I have come to cherish because of the pathways of literature this book created.
Arbitrators of historical accuracy in works of fiction decried "Catherine Called Birdy" as a travesty when it first came out. They said it was inaccurate and filled with factual misrepresentations. They said the main character could not and would not have acted the way she did (Birdy is both headstrong and willful) not because she wasn't capable of it but because of the times in which she lived (Medieval England). I was very partial to "Catherine Called Birdy" when I read it. I thought it was a breezy romp through a time entirely different from our own today. I thought the plot was enjoyable, the main character likable, and the setting fascinating. But yes, if pressed, I would admit that this is definitely not the book you're going to want to read to if you want a realistic portrayal of the Middle Ages. So there it is.
Lady Catherine (called Birdy) is the fourteen-year-old daughter of a knight and lady of a manor. Their only daughter, she is expected to wed soon, thereby bringing in a significant price from her suitor. Birdy, however, has other ideas. She knows that in terms of some people (barons, kings, etc.) her family is not particularly rich, but she also feels that no money in the world would be worth her marriage to some empty headed blockhead. As such, the book follows the day-to-day activities of a young lady in jolly old England as she outsmarts and drives away a variety of different potential husbands. To do so, the tale is told through Birdy's journal entries, usually beginning with a note as to what the saint day it is and how they died. The book really hits its stride when Birdy finds herself engaged to a man that repulses and disgusts her more than any other she's met thus far.Read more ›
"You are lucky, Little Bird, for you have wings. But you must learn to master them. Look at the baron's hawk there on her perch. Just because she doesn't flap her wings all the time doesn't mean she cant fly."
Catherine, also called Birdy, is a 14 year old girl from England (the year is 1290). Her brother Edward insists on her writing an account of her days to help her grow "less childish and more learned." So she does, reluctantly at first, her first entry being:
12th Day of September I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by my family. That is all here is to say.
Catherine is "the daughter of a country knight with but ten servants, seventy villagers, no ministrel, and acres of unhemmed linen." Her mother wants to make her a fine lady who keeps her eyes down and her mouth shut. And her father is determined to wed her to an honorable, wealthy suitor to improve on their family status. Catherine won't let none of this happen to her: she is witty and strong-minded, looking with a critical eye upon the world around her. The only problem is, that nobody but the caged birds in her chamber would share her outlook on life. But she doesn't give up: from now on much of Birdy's energy is consumed by avoiding the various suitors her father has lined up for her marriage. One by one, they are all sent packing, thanks to Catherine's determination. Until she is almost wed to an older, unattractive man she refers to as Shaggy Beard. Should she run away or join the Crusades?
Catherine has to go a full circle, get lost in her emotions and feelings, and find the answer for herself.Read more ›
I enjoyed the book very much. The thing that makes me wary of historical fiction is the trap of planting a modern-thinking person into a historical period and go from there - I find this false and jarring - and this novel definitely avoided it. I found Catherine convincing and endearing. Having only general education in history, I can't offer any reliable opinion on historical accuracy, but I didn't detect anything obviously sticking out. The frame of the story is a journal a 14 year old Catherine writes about her life. I liked the way Catherine developed and grew up, and the way the supporting characters turned out, seen through the merciless black-and-white of teen's eyes. I recommend it!
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