Catherine, Called Birdy

by Karen Cushman

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman Catherine, Called Birdy is written in the form of a diary kept by fourteen-year-old Catherine (nicknamed Birdy) in the year 1290. Her elder brother Edward, now a monk, has suggested the diary to help her "grow less childish and more learned." Birdy begins with rebelliously short entries, "I am am bit by fleas and plagued by family." Soon, though, she warms to the project, confiding, "Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like a cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife."

Birdy is a witty, clever and spirited heroine. Her charm brings the Middle Ages vividly alive and compensates for the lack of a tight storyline. She tells of pranks, holidays, daily frustrations like sewing, disasters large (a storm) and small (being forbidden to attend a hanging), and of her father's persistent efforts to find her a husband. Birdy does not wish to be married, especially not to any of the unpleasant candidates her father has in mind. But every medieval girl's fate is to become a wife, if she doesn't become a nun. Birdy's efforts to discourage her increasingly repellent suitors can only delay the inevitable. (1994; 246 pages including an author's note on the history behind the story; recommended for ages 12 and up; a Newbery Honor Book)

More about Catherine, Called Birdy at Powell's Books or

Other novels by Karen Cushman:

The Midwife's Apprentice (1995), about an orphaned girl taken in by a midwife. More info

Matilda Bone (2000), about a well-educated girl who becomes the assistant to a bonesetter. More info

Nonfiction about life in medieval England:

Life in Medieval England by Rupert Willoughby (1997). More info

Everyday Life in Medieval England by Christopher Dyer (1994). More info

Life in a Medieval Village by Frances and Joseph Gies (1990). More info


"Childhood in Medieval England, c. 500-1500" by Nicholas Orme, University of Exeter

Medieval Women at the History Learning Site

Back to Young Adult Novels: Medieval

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