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Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy

3.7 161
by Karen Cushman

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Catherine, a spirited and inquisitive young woman of good family, narrates in diary form the story of her fourteenth year—the year 1290. A Newbery Honor Book.


Catherine, a spirited and inquisitive young woman of good family, narrates in diary form the story of her fourteenth year—the year 1290. A Newbery Honor Book.

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)
Ilene Cooper
Like the recent "The Ramsey Scallop" , this is a story of life in the last decade of the twelfth century as seen through the eyes of a young teenage girl. Here the heroine is feisty Birdy, who's been instructed by her older brother to keep a diary so that she may grow less childish. Birdy, the daughter of a minor lord and lady in Lincolnshire, reluctantly agrees, but initially she has nothing more interesting to report than how many fleas she has picked off herself. As the months roll on, however, life becomes more stimulating as Birdy's father tries to marry her off to a variety of suitors. The diary format helps portray the tedium of life in the Middle Ages, the never-ending sewing, cooking, and other chores; the dirt and the illness; and, worse, the lowly role of women in medieval life. But this diary style also inhibits the ability of the characters to come alive. Birdy's is the only real voice. Fortunately, it's a sprightly voice, complete with its own brand of cursing ("God's thumbs!"), that moves the action. Kids can read this on their own or as a supplement to studies of the Middle Ages.
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

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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.

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.

Tangled my spinning again. Corpus bones, what a torture.

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.

Spinning. Tangled.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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...

What People are Saying About This

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

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.karencushman.com and follow her on Twitter @Cushmanbooks.

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Catherine, Called Birdy 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 161 reviews.
clemmy More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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...
staylo14 More than 1 year ago
It has a little latin in it so you might not understand some of the words.
debra felman More than 1 year ago
At first not so good but as you go deeper into the story it is very good
allison_bookworm More than 1 year ago
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!
Lucy Williams More than 1 year ago
this was my favorite book in 6th grade, so i decided to read it again and it is still so great and funny!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
melina More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think its boring because when we read it in la class i mostly fall asleep because its BORING i mean BORING i got in trouble for sleeping but it was worth it.:p lol
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is not realy an advancer book. It is more about her day to day life. Very funny in parts.
Mommadonnabob More than 1 year ago
This ws a very well written book about another era.
Les_Livres More than 1 year ago
"... 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!
Emma Williams More than 1 year ago
thia is one f the best boos in the world. catherine ia so spunky, and i love it!
cupcakes4eva More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Catherine Called Birdy
Karen Cushman
Historical Fiction

Imagine having your father choose your spouse, and having no say on who he chooses. What if your father chooses a smelly, drunken man who thinks an idea of a ¿good gift¿ is a silver toothpick? Well that's the situation that Catherine faces in Karen Cushman's Catherine Called Birdy. The reader of this book reads the diary that Catherine writes in every day. It is amazing how complicated life can be when one doesn't have to think about school, or what outfit should be worn tomorrow, or when a favorite TV show will be on! Her life is probably just as complex as anyone elses today, but in a different kind of way. What Catherine really wants to do is become a monk like her brother, not some fancy, elegant, rich girl her father wants her to be. This becomes all the more obvious when she goes head-first into a pig's pen in hope to find her ring she earlier threw in there. Or when she blacked out her teeth and stuck rat bones in her hair to get rid of a suitor. Even though her life is complicated, she still has time to spend with her friends. Whether it's playing with the puppies that Aelis brought her for a gift, comforting Perkin through a family death, or standing up for Perkin when Geoffery made fun of him, she will always be there. When you follow her story, you soon realize how difficult life can be for a young girl living in the 1900's.

Catherine is a fun-loving witty girl who always has a few tricks up her sleeve. Whether it's getting rid of her suitors, or finding a way to skip soap making, Catherine is always ahead of things. What will Catherine do when Shaggy Beard comes along? What will she do with her hardest challenge yet? Shaggy Beard is a very uncaring man. He sleeps most of the time, only to awake with ¿ale head¿ and when he's not drunk, he's getting drunk. He is a very smelly man because he doesn't bathe much... or at all. He also gets food caught in his beard when he eats (which is often). He doesn't care about anyone else but himself, which is just another obstacle Catherine must face in order to get rid of him. Perkin and Aelis are Catherine's best friends. Perkin is a nice, calm goat herder who spends most of his days out in the pasture watching the clouds. He always does silly things to make Catherine laugh. Aelis is a caring girl who in a lot of ways, is like Catherine. She falls in love with Catherine's uncle George but Aelis's father will not allow it, he'd much rather her marry a prince that just got out of diapers a few short years ago. Catherine's mom and dad, and Catherine's brothers are supporting characters that help make Catherine's story interesting and full of excitement.

Catherine Called Birdy is a must read for people who like historical fiction. It is a perfect example of what life was like in the 1900's. It was cleverly written from Catherine's point of view, living her life day by day, and overcoming obstacles that today, would probably not seem like problems at all. It is a really fun read that takes the reader back in time to the nineteenth century, when one had to make soap and was allowed to paint on the walls. The reader no longer has to imagine what the ¿middle ages¿ were like, he/she can just read Catherine Called Birdy, fall into the nineteenth century, and follow along in the events that are part of Catherine's every day life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love to read young adult fiction, but this book I couldn't even finish, it was so boring! If you want to read about medieval times, get a history book, it will be more exciting! I will not even let my 12 year old daughter read it. It is supposed to be recommended for ten years old and up, but the sexual innuendos in the book are ridiculous and completely unnecessary. This book is getting tossed out. It goes ON and ON and ON, with no plot whatsoever. I can't believe it was ever published, let alone a Newberry Honor stamped on the front!!!
Anonymous 3 months ago
Hoity toity
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I must have first read this book back in middle school & it's always stuck with me. As a kid I loved the protagonist, Birdy, she is was so relatable to me as a tween (a lovable brat with the qualities of a strong & compassionate woman shinning through). And re-reading as an adult I have a much better appreciation for the daily grind of medieval life (they use a lot of dung in common cures, brace yourself) & looking for any excuse for a celebration (these people know how to have a good time, surprisingly). For some reason I remembered Birdy's arranged marriage situation differently, one where she actually meets Stephen & they're budding romance prompts the change in plans. It's too bad this wasn't actually a part of the book, it may not have been as realistic but she could have used the drama to compete with all the historical accuracy (which which becomes it's own character). That being said having a strong interest in history will make this book a gem for you, otherwise it may get tedious. For me, 5 stars :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As I began to read this book, I wasn't the most interested in it, but I shall say that it sounded much a person in the modern day that was the character's age. I have heard much about this book and it's enjoyable content and do not believe that it is a book that is not worthy of reading, simply not the genre of books I prefer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago