The Book Reviews – Website

August 30, 2009

Catherine, Called Birdy

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Catherine, Called Birdy

Author: Karen Cushman

Page Length: 212

Reading Level: 8

Genre: Realistic Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY & REVIEW: Catherine (Birdy) is the stubborn daughter of Sir Rollo and Lady Aislinn who live in England in the year 1290.  The story is a journal of daily entries of Birdy’s 14th year of life. 

Birdy is being groomed to be a wife and mother by performing the skills that most girls learn at her age.  Birdy, however, does not want to be married off so that her father can collect money for her.  She does practice the skill of medicine well as making several concoctions that remedy many ailments. 

Birdy tells of her day to day life and introduces us to many characters who share her life in the village, castle and manor.  Her father drinks “ale” often and she notes how he often hits or kicks her under the influence.  She refers to her father as a beast and does not understand how her mother could love him.

Birdy spends the year attending weddings, feasts, a monastery and funerals.  All the time, Birdy tries to avoid the thought of being married off by her father and is successful at warding off most of those who call on her.  However, she is promised to an old, man whom she calls Shaggy Beast and spends most of the book worrying about how to avoid marrying him.

REVIEW:  Birdy could be one of the first feminists as she strives to be independent and not forced into marriage. She strives to avoid the common life of women of medieval times.  In the author’s note at the end of the book, Cushman, states that although the characters and events are all fictional, the setting, customs and practices depicted by Birdy follow authentic medieval practices.  

This book would be an interesting novel to read to coincide with a study of the Canterbury tales.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: Setting, Theme, Sequence of Events, Point of View

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: references to alcohol and physical abuse

RELATED BOOKS: The Canterbury Tales, Innocent Wayfaring, The Door in the Wall, Adam of the Road, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: Crusades (1935), Elizabeth-The Golden Age (2007), The Sword in the Stone (2001)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner


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