Catherine Called Birdy

by Karen Cushman

Paperback, 1995



Local notes

PB Cus




Trophy Press (1995), 224 pages


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.


Young Hoosier Book Award (Nominee — Middle Grade — 1997)
Audie Award (Finalist — 1997)
Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Young Adult — 1997)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

224 p.; 5.25 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member bplma
Although it sounds deadly--one year in the life of Birdy, the13 year old daughter of a minor knight in 11th century England, as told through her diary entries--it is, instead, brilliant. Birdy is irreverent, manipulative, modern, lively, funny, thoughtful, moody, anxious, headstrong and thoroughly
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alive--she is Anne of Green Gables, Hermoine Granger, Jo March, Charlotte Doyle-- a strong adolescent female character coming of age and trying to make sense of her world. Birdy, as the daughter of a poor and minor knight, hates lots of things about her life--killing fleas, cleaning rushes, her older brother, endless needle work--and she fights against the social constraints put on women of her era-- sometime actually longing for the imagined greener grass life of the peasantry. In the course of the year she loses her best friend to a less than happy marriage and is herself facing the very real prospect of being married off to the highest bidder--which she decides to fight with every tool in her limited power. The details of daily life are certainly realistic--the actual character of Birdy--i'm not so sure--but that does not diminish the story at all--the character is one many girls (and boys) will identify with and while the ending is a bit convenient (yes, i 'll give you that) it is historic fiction and a great story and one that kids love. This is Karen Cushman doing what she does best.
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LibraryThing member melydia
A diary of a 13-year-old British girl in 1290. Absolutely delightful. Birdy's commentary is loads of fun: earthy, funny, and brutally honest. Things just get better when she obtains a book of saints and marks whose feast day it is, often with hilarious commentary. I wonder how many of them are
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real. (Probably most, given the level of Christian superstition during those days.) Definitely recommended for anyway - children and adults alike - looking for an interesting and entertaining sample of medieval life (pay particular attention to the food - eww!). I don't know why I didn't read this years ago.
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LibraryThing member cablesclasses
Cushman reveals through Birdy’s daily diary entries the many struggles that medieval people endured daily. Birdy talks about everything from the privy to embroidery to unwanted marriages to helping the poor. She reveals the jobs each person performed and the societal status based on those jobs.
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Readers will enjoy the candid manner in dealing with such mundane and oftentimes unmentionable daily activities. In the author’s note, Cushman explains the realities of what medieval people might have experienced in daily life, within family units, personal identity, within their community, and employment anchoring Birdy’s commentary with that of historical research. Cushman includes a booklist of medieval topics.
The universal theme of finding one’s place within limited boundaries resounds among teens today. Trying to please and be obedient while struggling to discover what is true to oneself is a constant battle that teens face. Though bound to her father’s arranged marriage, Birdy is able to find resolve when she reflects on the few voices of reason who whispered to her throughout the year. She can be herself no matter where she is bound by agreement and can become true to herself--- a lesson teens can find parallel to their own lives. The only stretch of belief is in that Birdy must marry who her father has decided upon AND she has enough gumption to bargain for her future. So, the stretch lies in how believable is it that a woman would stand up against the ruling male? A bit of a stretch of reality but overall an interesting vantage of medieval life.
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LibraryThing member RogueBelle
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it at least once a year since I was 9 -- even though I'm an adult now, this book still retains its charm. I love Birdy's spirit and wit; her voice as narrator is just delightful. Cushman also paints a more realistic view of medieval life than
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many authors, illustrating that even the upper strata of society had to deal with muck, fleas, and filth -- while at the same time showing that people still found reasons to celebrate life, rather than sitting around wishing they'd been born in the Renaissance. ;) I heartily recommend this for all girls, and for all those still girls at heart.
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LibraryThing member dk_phoenix
A friend loaned this book to me, saying I would like it. I was skeptical... but she was right! The main character of Catherine is likable, funny, and believable as a young teen living in 1290 AD. I appreciated how Cushman included a section at the back on the real history of the time period, it
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shows that she really did her research and tried her hardest to make her novel authentic. And it shows! I recommend: A hot cup of tea, a comfy pillow, and an hour or two of uninterrupted reading time to enjoy this one best!
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LibraryThing member a-shelf-apart
I probably would have enjoyed this more as a younger reader, but it had some giggle moments for me as an adult too.

Birdy is a bit too modern in her way of thinking but her surroundings are thoroughly medieval, so kudos to the author. I imagine it's a fine line to walk, conveying how different
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medieval life was to a modern audience via a character who knows nothing else.
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LibraryThing member Herenya
I wish I had read Catherine, Called Birdy when I was Birdy's age - nearly 14 - because I would have been fascinated by all the revelations about life in a manor house in the late 13th century, and I also would have felt more optimistic about Birdy's future.
Reading it as an adult, I am less
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surprised by the details, and more aware of how many girls have faced the prospect of marriage at such a young age. Of how many girls still face such a prospect. It's not just something that's comfortably in the past.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed how spirited Birdy is, how determined she is to resist her parents' plans for her. Catherine, Called Birdy does an excellent job of capturing her world and her perspective of it, and the wavering experience of being caught between childhood and adulthood.

23rd day of September
There 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.
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LibraryThing member kewpie
Written in the form of a diary, Catherine relates her life in 13th century England. Her father is a knight, a very low noble rank in society. Her family is wealthy enough to own land, but not wealthy enough for servants. Catherine relates to the reader her struggles in the housework, battles with
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fleas and lice, and her fathers attempts to arrange a marriage for her.
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LibraryThing member RoseMarion
It’s 1290, and Catherine the 13 year old daughter of a minor lord has been told she must soon get married. “Corpus Bones!” This is not a happy prospect for feisty Catherine who likes to burp and play in the mud. Worse yet are all the men her father keeps inviting over to visit Catherine.
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These men are gross, and Catherine does everything to outwit them. For instance, she rubs soot in her teeth and hair and even blows up the outhouse in her determination to get rid of one of her suitors! These shenanigans work for awhile until Catherine is betrothed to marry Lord Murgaw of Lithgow, the Baron Selkirk, Lord of Smithburn, Random, and Fleece. Catherine calls this lord Shaggy Beard because he is slimy, yellow-toothed, cruel, and rude. He is also old! How could her father do this to her? Can Catherine get out of this arranged nightmare? Or is she destined to be the life partner of a man she doesn’t love much less even like? Pick up a copy of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman so you can laugh out loud as you find out the answer to these questions and more!

Karen Cushman is a prolific author that has written quite a few historical fiction novels about strong adolescent females. Her stories are inspirational as they give young girls a voice. They are also touched with humor and heart.
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LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed Sept 1998

This is a Oakland, CA author who was tired of reading about Kings & Princes and decided to write books concerning real young people living in the Middle Ages. Bringing history to life for many young people. Catherine is a 14 year old daughter of a knight who is being forced to
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marry whomever her father selects. she has another idea, she will sabotage the courting, in one case, burning the privy while her suitor is in it, another by crossing her eyes and drooling in her meat during dinner. Her search for the perfect swear word is great, finally settling on "Gods Thumbs." Very entertaining reading, really brings life in 1290, England to understanding
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LibraryThing member acl
This book is probably responsible for my interest in historical fiction. Karen Cushman does a great job of making history interesting and accessible to people of any age, in all her novels.
LibraryThing member mirandazwaltz
Wonderful look into the life of a teen girl living in the middel ages.
LibraryThing member alstonh3
this was a good book. it is about a girl that live in a castle and has to marry a groos man shaggy beard.
LibraryThing member JaredS8
I am sorry but this was probally the worst book ever! But also in a way kind of fascinating..
LibraryThing member CarolynLI5
this book was the best that i read during the school year. the author put alot of detale into creating the story and setting. the book is over all short, though. u could probably finish it in a few sit downs.

the story takes place in the middle ages. Birdy, is being forced to get married by her
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father to people she has never met before and probably would never love. But, with wit and creativeity she finds ways to out do these horrible suiters :D
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LibraryThing member SaraH5
Good book if you are looking for a book to read. Can get boring but is good. The story is about a girl in the medival times who is just like anyone our age.
LibraryThing member tiamatq
Set in the 12th century, Catherine, Called Birdy is a journal kept by a girl whose nickname is Birdy. Under her brother’s orders, Birdy records the daily events of her life, from picking flees to spinning to raising her birds, over the course of a year. As she becomes accustomed to keeping a
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journal, Birdy starts to relate her hopes and dreams of becoming a crusader like her uncle George or a lady of the court that does as she pleases. In reality, Birdy struggles to come to terms with being a woman in a world where she has little control over herself and her future. Birdy’s life is ruled by her father, her mother, and her nursemaid; she finds some escape in writing, drawing, and her birds. However, life isn’t all dreary for Birdy; she is a feisty young woman who loves animals, hates sewing, and can turn almost any suitor away.
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LibraryThing member jessica.kohout
Fourteen-year old Catherine, who is called Birdy because of her love for birds, tells the everyday events in her life growing up in Medieval England through her journal that she is writing for her brother. She reveals her frustrations of having to act like a lady, her annoyance with sewing and
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hemming, and her grave concerns about being married off by her father like she is merely property.

A Newbery Honor, this book is told in first person in journal or diary format. Catherine has an adventurous spirit and is not afraid to rebel against the conventions set forth by her parents and the society in which she lives. She is imaginative, compassionate, mischievous, and stubborn, all qualities that make her character seem real and thus relatable to young adult readers. Her behavior is typical for a teenager, even though her story takes places hundreds of years ago. Her independence, defiance, desire to be recognized for her individuality and value are typical for the stage in human development. Thus, Cushman's work has a universal appeal. Readers interested in society during the Middle Ages and those that like to read about inner strength and determination will enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member briannad84
I've had this book since I was about 11 or 12 and it's still one of my favorites! I love how everything turns out at the end.
LibraryThing member Mialro
Funny, interesting look at what life as a teen girl in medieval times must have been like. The protagonist's voice is self-confident and likeable, if a bit modern in mindset.
LibraryThing member stephxsu
In no other book set in thirteenth-century England has such a willful and admirable protagonist starred. Catherine, the fourteen-year-old daughter of a knight whom she claims is a rude pig, is called Birdy, and somehow the name suits her. She’d much rather be a villager, frolicking outdoors all
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day and not being reprimanded for getting her feet and clothes dirty.

Unfortunately for her, a well-off young lady has but one aim in life, and that is to be married to a well-off man. Throughout the year that she documents in her journal, Birdy’s father attempts to find her a husband. However, Birdy manages to scare away each one with her liveliness and cleverness.

Birdy’s doing pretty well considering the number of suitors she’s managed to send away. Then she meets her match. A rich suitor, affectionately called by her as “Shaggy Beard,” wants to wed her. He doesn’t care that she is willful, independent, and not very ladylike. She’s expected to not care that he’s almost older than her father, ugly, bad-mannered, and gross. What will Birdy come up with in order to escape this most horrible fate for herself?

While not all readers will be satisfied with the ending, thinking that it’s a copout, the ending brought tears to my eyes. Birdy is such a fun main character who manages to also be eloquent and observant. Her concluding realization is wise beyond her years and marks her as a strong character who people should admire.
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LibraryThing member 4sarad
This was a nice fun book that went at a good pace. Some of the terminology was a little confusing, but otherwise I liked it. The main character is especially fun and easy to relate to.
LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
Catherine is an engaging wee thing, and I wholly sympathised with her desire not to be married off to someone dreadful. The diary format of the novel provided plenty of opportunity for dry wit - I enjoyed how the modern convention of the teenage girl's diary was translated back into the historical
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time period, complete with "Geoffery! Geoffery! Geoffery!"
The little details of daily life were delightful, although I was horrified by the frequent occurrence of herring!
I often criticise historical fiction for giving characters anachronistic sensibilities, and while this was the case here as well, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story.
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LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
Formatted as a young girl's diary of her attempt to avoid being married off to the "highest bidder".
LibraryThing member Terpsichoreus
Entertaining, but overall highly anachronistic. Yet another author who transplants a spunky, modern heroine into a vastly different culture without an explanation of how such a character could have developed. People forget that 'teenagers' have only existed since the middle of the last century.

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wish Cushman had created a protagonist who was both engaging to the reader and able to provide illumination of how much people have changed over time. That's the book I want for my kids. You know, if I wasn't half-convinced that I would destroy the poor things with my eccentric brand of madness. Then again, I couldn't do any worse than most parents.
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