Colleen's Reviews > Catherine, Called Birdy

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
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Oct 20, 09

bookshelves: absolute-best-kids-books-i-have-ev, kids-books
Read in October, 2009

Throw away your history textbooks! Well, don't really, but this book is an awesome way to supplement your learning of this period of time--1290, England. It's got one of the spunkiest heroines I've ever encountered in a book. It's funny, it's suspenseful, it's gross (in an informative kind of way!). Catherine, or Birdy, as her family calls her, is a feisty 14-year-old. She doesn't want to do anything a girl her age is supposed to do--spinning, embroidering, and learning to act like a lady. Her mother strikes a deal with her. Birdy can forgo spinning as long as she writes an account of family life for her brother, Edward. Lucky us--we get to read it too. Birdy's entries are funny, sly, and observant. When she sees the young people of the village returning from gathering willow branches for Palm Sunday with more greenery stuck in their hair and clothes than in their baskets, she predicts a large crop of babies next Christmas! She writes of her disgust at a public hanging, about her meals and village festivals, her friends and enemies, and her constant battle against fleas and her father's attempts to marry her off to the highest bidder. Despite the humor, Cushman doesn't shy away from the unsavory aspects of 1290. The perpetrators being hanged are only 12 years old. Birdy's brother, Robert, impregnates a 12-year-old, who then dies in childbirth. I must mention how compelling the plot was. I anxiously awaited finding out if Birdy would be forced to marry the distasteful Shaggy Beard. And I thought I had guessed what the ending would be, but I was wrong. Cushman cleverly gives the story a twist at the end which is not "and-they-lived-happily-ever-after" but is certainly hopeful. Highly recommended for young adults and adults!
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