Catherine, Called Birdy
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1995 Turtleback edition
Catherine, Called Birdy is the first children's novel written by Karen Cushman. It is a historical novel in diary format, set in thirteenth century England. It was published in 1994, and won the Newbery Honor and Golden Kite Award in 1995.
Catherine, Called Birdy is a look at the life of Catherine Rollo, 14, the daughter of a minor English nobleman. She is called "Birdy" in reference of her free spirit. The year is 1290 and the vehicle for storytelling is Catherine's diary. She looks upon the world around her, telling of the people she knows and of the daily events in her small manor house. Much of Birdy's energy is consumed by avoiding the various suitors her father chooses for her to marry. She sends them all packing with assorted ruses until she is almost wed to an older, unattractive man she refers to as Shaggy Beard. In the process of telling the routines of her young life, Birdy relates many details about medieval England. The book contains information about the food, dress, manners, health, medical practices, and sanitary habits (or lack thereof) of the people of her day. From the number of fleas she kills in an evening to her herbal medicines laced with urine, Birdy tells facts about her time period. She is depicted as a feminist far ahead of her time. An afterword discusses the mind set of medieval people and concludes with a list of books to consult for further information about the period.