From the Publisher
"This unusual book provides an insider’s look at the life of Birdy, 14, the daughter of a minor English nobleman. The year is 1290 and the vehicle for storytelling is the girl’s witty, irreverent diary. . . . Superb historical fiction." —School Library Journal, Starred
"The period has rarely been presented for young people with such authenticity; the exotic details will intrigue readers while they relate more closely to Birdy’s yen for independence and her sensibilities toward the downtrodden. Her tenacity and ebullient naiveté are extraordinary; at once comic and thought-provoking, this first novel is a delight." —Kirkus Reviews with Pointers
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``You can run, but you can't hide'' is the rather belated conclusion reached by Catherine, called ``Birdy'' for her caged pets, in this fictive diary of a medieval young woman's coming-of-age and struggle for self-determination. Escaping regularly into a fantasy life of daring escapades and righteous battles, Birdy manages to postpone the inevitable sale of herself as a wife to a very unwelcome suitor. Just as she resigns herself to her fate with the comforting knowledge that ``I am who I am wherever I am,'' word comes that she will not have to marry the oaf after all. Birdy's journal, begun as an assignment, first wells up in the reluctant and aggressive prose of hated homework, and then eases into the lighthearted flow of descriptive adventures and true confessions; the narrative device reveals Birdy's passage from rebellious child to responsible adult. Despite the too-convenient ending, this first novel introduces an admirable heroine and pungently evokes a largely unfamiliar setting. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Cushman brings the Middle Ages alive with a revealing, humorous and riveting story of a young girl who devises clever schemes to escape marrying all the repulsive men her father would give her to. In the end Catherine marries, but the ending is also a beginning of a possible new life. All of this is revealed in Catherine's diary that details her fourteenth year growing up in a medieval English manor. A study guide is available from Learning Links. Newbery Honor Book and Horn Book Fanfare award.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
"Why must I learn to walk with a lady's tiny steps one day and sweat over great steaming kettles of dung and nettle for remedies the next? Why must the lady of the manor do all the least lovable tasks? I'd rather be a pig boy." This is just one of the entries in the diary of Catherine. A spirited, independent 13-year-old in 1290, Catherine records her daily activities and thoughts in this candid record that is filled with the rigid restrictions and raucous action of all the players in her life. Her father, a knight, wants to marry her to an old but wealthy suitor while she wants to be a scribe, a Crusader, a minstrel...anything other than a wife.
Children's Literature - Mary Sue Preissner
"Corpus bones! I loathe my life." What teenager today hasn't thought this? (Admittedly, today's young adult uses different expletives.) This book is a peek into the private thoughts of a 13-year-old, somewhat privileged girl, living in the 13th century. Using diary format, we learn of life, family, joys, and tribulations of a young woman born to title but not wealthy circumstances. Her dislike of her brothers, frustration with parents, conniving to escape chores, and determination to avoid any possible marriage arranged by her father, will keep you in stitches. With religion as a driving force in these times, each diary entry begins with an acknowledgment of which saint is honored on this day, for which purpose, continuing with Catherine's observations of each day. What eventually happens to Catherine and her suitors, her relationship with her parents, her sharp tongue and quick wit, her fears and desires? The author has included an explanatory note of the medieval days, community, religious temperament, etc., and a list of additional sources of medieval information, both fiction and non-fiction. 1995 (orig.
The ALAN Review - Charles R. Duke
Catherine, known as Birdy because of her love for various kinds of birds, is a headstrong fourteen-year old living in medieval England. Her brother Edward suggests she keep a diary so she will become more learned and less childish. Catherine's year-long record of her daily activities gives readers a detailed account of life in the late 1200s. Catherine's father wants her to marry, but she fights all the way, setting fire to the privy while one of her suitors is inside, disguising herself as a very ugly serving girl, and finally running away. This is not a fast-moving or highly plotted story, but it is rich with details of life in a medieval home of limited means. For history buffs, the story should prove interesting. Girls will be far more attracted to it than boys and will undoubtedly identify with the struggle women had in defining their role in a world dominated by men.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9The 14-year-old daughter of a rustic knight records the events of her days in the year 1290, writing perceptive, scathing, and often raucously funny observations about her family, friends, and would-be suitors. A delightful, rebellious heroine, determined not to marry the man of her father's choice. (June 1994)
Read an Excerpt
September12TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.
13TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
My father must suffer from ale head this day, for he cracked me twice before dinner instead of once. I hope his angry liver bursts.
14TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Tangled my spinning again. Corpus bones, what a torture.
15TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Today the sun shone and the villagers sowed hay, gathered apples, and pulled fish from the stream. 1, trapped inside, spent two hours embroidering a cloth for the church and three hours picking out my stitches after my mother saw it. I wish I were a villager.
16TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
17TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
18TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
If my brother Edward thinks that writing this account of my days will help me grow less childish and more learned, he will have to write it. I will do this no longer. And I will not spin. And I will not eat. Less childish indeed.
19TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am delivered! My mother and I have made a bargain. I may forgo spinning as long as I write this account for Edward. My mother is not much for writing but has it in her heart to please Edward, especially now he is gone to be a monk, and I would do worse things to escape the foolish boredom of spinning. So I will write.
What follows will be my book-the book of Catherine, called Little Bird or Birdy, daughter of Rollo and the lady Aislinn, sister to Thomas, Edward, and the abominable Robert, of the village of Stonebridge in the shire of Lincoln, in the country ofEngland, in the hands of God. Begun this 19th day of September in the year of Our Lord 1290, the fourteenth year of my life. The skins are my father's, left over from the household accounts, and the ink also. The writing I learned of my brother Edward, but the words are my own.
Picked off twenty-nine fleas today.
20TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Today I chased a rat about the hall with a broom and set the broom afire, ruined my embroidery, threw it in the privy, ate too much for dinner, hid in the barn and sulked, teased the littlest kitchen boy until he cried, turned the mattresses, took the linen outside for airing, hid from Morwenna and her endless chores, ate supper, brought in the forgotten linen now wet with dew, endured scolding and slapping from Morwenna, pinched Perkin, and went to bed. And having writ this, Edward, I feel no less childish or more learned than I was.
21ST DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Something is astir. I can feel my father's eyes following me about the hall, regarding me as he would a new warhorse or a bull bought for breeding. I am surprised that he has not asked to examine my hooves.
And he asks me questions, the beast who never speaks to me except with the flat of his hand to my cheek or my rump.This morning: "Exactly how old are you, daughter?"
This forenoon: "Have you all your teeth?"
"Is your breath sweet or foul?"
"Are you a good eater?"
"What color is your hair when it is clean?"
Before supper: "How are your sewing and your bowels and your conversation?"
What is brewing here?
Sometimes I miss my brothers, even the abominable Robert. With Robert and Thomas away in the king's service and Edward at his abbey, there are fewer people about for my father to bother, so he mostly fixes upon me.
22ND DAY OF SEPTEMBER
I am a prisoner to my needle again today, hemming linen in the solar with my mother and her women. This chamber is pleasant, large and sunny, with my mother and father's big bed on one side and, on the other, a window that looks out on the world I could be enjoying were I not in here sewing. I can see across the yard, past the stables and privy and cowshed, to the river and the gatehouse, over the fields to the village beyond. Cottages line the dusty road leading to the church at the far end. Dogs and geese and children tumble in play while the villagers plough. Would I were tumbling or even ploughing with them.
Here in my prison my mother works and gossips with her women as if she didn't mind being chained to needle and spindle. My nurse Morwenna, now that I am near grown and not in need of her nursing, tortures me with complaints about the length of my stitches and the colors of my silk and the thumbprints on the altar cloth I am hemming.
If I had to be born a lady, why not a rich lady, so someone else could do the work and I could lie on a silken bed and listen to a beautiful minstrel sing while my servants hemmed? Instead I am the daughter of a country knight with but ten servants, seventy villagers, no minstrel, and acres of unhemmed linen. It grumbles my guts. I do not know what the sky is like today or whether the berries have ripened. Has Perkin's best goat dropped her kid yet? Did Wat the Farrier finally beat Sym at wrestling? I do not know. I am trapped here inside hemming.
Morwenna says it is the altar cloth for me. Corpus bones!
23RD DAY OF SEPTEMBERThere was a hanging in Riverford today. I am being punished for impudence again, so was not allowed to go. I am near fourteen and have never yet seen a hanging. My life is barren.
24TH DAY OF SEPTEMBERThe stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady-dumb, docile, and...