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Catherine, Called Birdy

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Karen Cushman has a long-standing interest in history. Growing tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, and presidents, she wanted to know what life was like for ordinary young people in other times. Her research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of Catherine, Called Birdy, her first work.

Contained in this program is Catherine's diary — Catherine, called Little Bird or Birdy, daughter of Rollo and the lady ...

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Catherine, Called Birdy

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Overview

Karen Cushman has a long-standing interest in history. Growing tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, and presidents, she wanted to know what life was like for ordinary young people in other times. Her research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of Catherine, Called Birdy, her first work.

Contained in this program is Catherine's diary — Catherine, called Little Bird or Birdy, daughter of Rollo and the lady Aislinn, sister to Thomas, Edward, and the abominable Robert.

Begun this 12th day of September in the year of Our Lord 1290...I am commanded to write an account of my days. I am bit by fleas and plagued by family...Tangled my spinning again. Corpus bones, what a torture...Spent two hours embroidering a cloth for the church and three hours picking out the stitches after my mother saw it...Picked off twenty-nine fleas today.

Catherine's mother wants to teach her the skills of the lady of the manor and to prepare her to be a gentle and patient wife. Her father wants only to see her married off, and profitably. Catherine fancies herself a painter, a Crusader, a maker of songs, a peddler, a minstrel, a monk, a wart charmer...Of all the possibilities, she has ruled out only one: being sold like cheese to the highest bidder.

Against a vivid backdrop of everyday life on a medieval English manor, Catherine's earthy, spirited account of her fourteenth year is a richly entertaining story with an utterly unforgettable heroine.

Kate Maberly's film credits include The Secret Garden, Friendship Field and Gulliver's Travels. She appeared in the ABC miniseries The Langoliers.

The thirteen-year-old daughter of an English country knight keeps a journal in which she records the events of her life, particularly her longing for adventures beyond the usual role of women and her efforts to avoid being married off.

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Editorial Reviews

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
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807208700
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Abridged, 2 cassettes, 3 hrs.
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Karen Cushman's acclaimed historical novels include Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Midwife's Apprentice , which received the Newbery Medal. She lives on Vashon Island in Washington State. Her website is www.karencushmanbooks.com.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

September

12TH 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
Spinning. Tangled.

17TH DAY OF SEPTEMBER
Untangled.

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...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 157 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(62)

4 Star

(42)

3 Star

(23)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(24)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 157 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 19, 2009

    A Perennial Favorite

    Catherine is spunky and my hero when it comes to standing up for her own thoughts. She's not afraid of anything! Her father is demanding and controlling (or tries to be). She is very inventive and never uses the same scheme twice. Running off men who want a rich wife is very demanding. I like how she only writes because her monk brother told her it might improve her. It's nice to see how she grows throughout the book, embraces journal writing over time, and shares her doings. The book is also a nice insight to the middle ages. There must have been fleas everywhere.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2000

    Say What?

    I just finished reading 'Catherine, Called Birdy'. I thought it was...interesting. Deus! It wasn't exactly how I thought it would turn out. I mean, the whole book was pure diary. It was kind of hard to understand. Corpus bones, those medieval people! They had some weird celebrations, rituals, and traditions. It was pretty hard to understand. But over all, it was pretty good. It stood up for women's rights, had lots of humor, plenty of mishief, and a pretty good storyline. Some mild profanity, the use of God's name in vain as 'God's thumbs' were something I was concerned about, though. Now if only there were some dragons and fairies added to it...

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2010

    Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

    This book was chosen by my daughter's 6th grade English teacher for a school assignment. My son also had to read this book when he was in 6th grade. My neice read it for her English class too, in another state.
    Their reviews were unanymous. They hated it with a passion. While it might be educational, it not exciting enough for the age group it is targeting. I don't think any child would actually read this book unless it was assigned.

    5 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2000

    Excellent Portrayal of Medival Life

    This book is an excellent portrayal of life in the 1200's. It triggered my passion for Medival studies. Hillarious book by all means. Get it for yourself or your child NOW!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2012

    Catherine called birdy

    Hated it at first gets interesting at end . But overall hated it

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2012

    Highly recomend

    This ws a very well written book about another era.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    Best book ever!!!

    Bad book?deus ! Great book!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Hysterical and surprisingly historically accurate

    "... This book came out back when I was in maybe the fourth or fifth grade - I thoroughly enjoyed it then, and it was a fun book to revisit. The format of the story is as if you are reading Catherine's diary, which I always like, because I am a nosy person. Obviously, if you are someone who likes having a certain depth in multiple characters, this book is not for you, but I think it is fun to read books set up this way, too. ..."

    For full review, please visit me (Les Livres) on Blogger!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2011

    P.S.

    It has a little latin in it so you might not understand some of the words.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    Preety good

    At first not so good but as you go deeper into the story it is very good

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2011

    An awesome book Recommend to any ages

    I love this book!I thought I wouldn't like it but I turned out loving it! It's full of love, humor, heartbreak, its fantastic! I do recommend this too girls though. I don't think boys/men would like it. In Catherine Called Birdy, Catherine is a young teenager who has to be wed to whoever her father picks. I even relate to this story on some parts! :) Read it!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2011

    Utterly hilarious!

    thia is one f the best boos in the world. catherine ia so spunky, and i love it!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I HATE THIS BOOK

    i had to read this for school, and I HATED IT SO MUCH. it's so boring, and, in my opinion, all the chapters seemed to blend together so it was hard to pick out details. if you like books with main characters that complain A LOT and are never grateful of anything, this is your kind of book! this book was terribly boring and i couldn't take reading it for two months. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS BOOK AND NEVER WILL.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2011

    Corpus Bones

    The book "Catherine Called Birdy" by Karen Cushman is a novel about a young girl who doesn't want to marry a man her father picks for her. So she, being a young lady, rebels against them.
    Catherine's story takes place in the medieval ages where women aren't treated equal with men. Her father tries desperately to find a suitor for her, but Catherine scares them off by acting repulsive. Over time she changes and becomes more mature while her father becomes more impatient and determined. To save a bear, Catherine must promise to marry a suitor that her father had chosen. As the date of the wedding gets closer, Catherine becomes more worried. Before the wedding she runs away. After realizing so much about herself, she returns to find out that her suitor had died. To take the place of the deceased man is his son who is much more gracious. All things end happily for Catherine
    All in all it's a great book. It keeps you reading for hours. This book shows how strong and determined women can be. It gives girls hope even in life's toughest times and shows you can have happy endings.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2011

    absolutely wounderfull!

    this was my favorite book in 6th grade, so i decided to read it again and it is still so great and funny!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2010

    Yuck yuck yuck yuck!!!!!!!!!!!!

    In case you could not tell, I did NOT like this book!!!! I had to read it for school and let me tell you, this wasn't good!! It wasn't the worst book I've ever read, but it was close. No offense Karen Cushman, it did have a few good points. It was kinda funny in some parts, but overall I would not read this again or reccomend it to anyone.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2010

    A Really Fun Read

    I have probably read this book over 100 times since I was 9, and I enjoy it just as much every time I do. This book is full of spunk. Parts of it might be a little coarse, but come on, you know you find it funny anyway. I found this book to be accurate as I researched medieval life, and it made me really think about what it would be like to be 13 in 1290.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    The title is perfect Catherine is a Birdy

    I love love love this book it is about a girl from the mid evil times, and her father is trying to find her a husband and she is just not having it. It is funny at time histerical and the best part is she is not allow to use profanity but she substitutes regular words for profanity. It is truly a must ready for any 12 year olds and up.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Wonderful Book

    It is a very good book.I would recommed Chatherine, Called Birdy to anyone.Catherine does many things to repel her suitors.Her father,who she refers to as beast,unknowingly helps her turn away suitors with his untidy behavior.She becomes uncomfortable when she must sit and share her food and drink with a man.That man turns out to be another suitor.She soon finds out that she cannot turn him away, nor could her fathers greed.When she protests she is punished.In the end things become better and she becomes happy.I reccommed this to anybody who loves historical fiction.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2000

    Horrible

    I just finished reading Catherine, Called Birdy and think that is the most boring book I've ever read. It was a waste of paper. I think that it should not have been a choice for a school reading books. After reading the other reviews I realize that many people don't agree with my but it is coming from a different generation. Sure there was many funny parts to this book but all together it really dissapointed me and I feel it there is no point to reading this in our schools.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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