Reading Backwards

Book reviews by your favorite Git.

Catherine, Called Birdy

with 14 comments

By Karen CushmanCathine Called Birdy
You should already have a copy, but…
Read: September 2006
Rating: Wundebar!

I haven’t reread this is years, but I’m so glad I did. Birdy is the most amazing heroine! She’s like Georgia Nicholson living in 1291! Because that’s what this is: it’s the diary of a fourteen year old girl living in the late 1200s. She is smart, snarky, and rebellious–and honest about her own faults.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is one of those books that every girl my age read. As I carried it around with me yesterday girls kept popping up to say: “Is that… is that Catherine, Called Birdy? I need to reread that…” Yes, my friends, you do. And if you’ve never read it, you owe it to yourself—and your daughters–to do so.

Corpus Bones!

Catherine is the only daughter of a landed knight, and so she must be both a ‘lady’ and learn the many disagreeable tasks of running a manor and its lands. She would rather be a villager! Catherine (who is called Birdy, or Little Bird, because of her great fondness for them) is constantly trying to get out of embroidery and weaving (which she is terrible at), making soap (which is disgusting), and avoiding her father (who is ‘beastly’ and tends to roar–prompting her to roar back). In short, she is a normal teenager! Alas, because it is the year 1291, and she is of marriageable age, this has become quite a problem. Her older brother Edward left recently to be a monk, but he has asked her to write an account of her days, in the hopes that this will make her more thoughtful or calm. …he tried.

The real trouble begins when her father starts looking for suitors for her. They are all too dimwitted, too vain, too old, too sloppy… and she drives them off in the most creative ways. (“Why is everyone so certain they are mine?”) Alas, the most obnoxious of all is also the richest and most determined. “I will not wed the pig!” But will she find a way to shake off her father’s greed and Shaggy Beard’s ring?

Birdy is both unusual for her time, and yet believable. When she ponders things we would consider modern she does it as though they are occuring to her for the first time.

I have noticed lately that many male saints were bishops, popes, missionaries, great scholars and teachers, while female saints get to be saints mostly by being someone’s mother or refusing to marry some powerful pagan. It is plain that men are in charge of making saints. (177)

Also of note is the insight into the way Birdy and the people around her live. Her duties as lady of the manor include doctoring, stirring vatsw of bubbling fat for soaps, and picking the fleas out of the mattresses. She has grown up playing with the village children and when no one is looking joins them in the mud slop to help build a new cottage. When a family of Jews being evicted from England spend the night in her home, she is genuinely surprised, and a bit disappointed (she loves danger and adventure–“I hope to have nightmares of this for weeks!”) to see that they do not have horns or tails and are in fact just a normal old woman and some sniffling children.

Her progress as a person is also evident. She begins as a snippy young thing (Yes, Edward, I’m writing this for you, but I doubt it’s going to help), but quickly finds she takes joy in the writing. As her situation grows more dire, she obviously takes great comfort in being able to voice her worries. She is forced to grow by being confronted by death, fire, her suitors… and the unexpected kindness her father and beastly brother Robert can show. By book’s end she is still Birdy, but a much more mature one.

There’s a reason this book is being used in schools now. It is absolutely wonderful–and amazing that it is a first novel! Funny, informative, involving… I still wish I knew what happened to Birdy after her diary ends. Treat yourself to Birdy.

“God’s Thumbs! I utterly loathe my life.”


Written by Shen

September 29, 2006 at 11:11 am

14 Responses

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  1. I liked he book because it grabbed my attention and I could relate to her situations even they have never happened to me. I could still understand, in my mind, what she was feeling. That’s mainly why I liked it. I also found it very funny


    November 20, 2006 at 6:49 pm

  2. it was boring.


    November 16, 2007 at 7:06 pm

  3. I thought the book was great but in the beginning it was borong! you should read it!!! I loved it espacilly if you do a book club 2for that book! It’s fun!!


    February 19, 2008 at 9:55 pm

  4. I LOVED IT! 🙂 Abit borin tho @ the beginin. I did a history project on it so it taught me a lot! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Delliphant, 11


    May 14, 2008 at 2:06 pm

  5. That was the worst book I have ever laid my eyes on!! I nearly threw up when I read the first chapter! These books should be bu8rned across America! If you want to read a good Medieval book, read Brethren. That’s a good book.


    April 21, 2009 at 4:36 pm

  6. i hated it


    May 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm

  7. i *hate* this book we have to read it in class and finish it there is noway im finishing that thing i would rather stick needles in my eye balls so i dont think ill fully read the rest of this stupid book


    December 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm

  8. this book is so confusing and needs to be more exciting it is sooo boring and im on pg 75 and ive been reading for a month i am just sooo bored of it like it makes no sense….

    is that your bizness

    August 12, 2010 at 12:21 am

  9. It Sucked worst book EVER


    February 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  10. this book suck. AM SORRY


    March 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm

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