Thursday, April 14, 2016

LS 5603 20 Review: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

Cushman, Karen. Catherine, Called Birdy. New York: Clarion Books, 1994. ISBN 9780060739423

Plot Summary:
Fourteen-year-old Catherine is the daughter of a knight and lady during the medieval times. Preferring to go by the nickname "Birdy," Catherine is a tomboy at heart who wants nothing more than to sneak off the the village to help with a festival and sing with the other peasants. Her father has much different plans for her, however. He intends to marry her off to the most suitable bachelor; read, the man with the most money. Her mother focuses on teaching her the manners of a proper wife, while Catherine works hard to get rid of the suitors as often as possible. 

Critical Analysis: 

Cushman does a wonderful job of creating a character who not only fits into the medieval time period of the novel, but also has typical teenage qualities that today's teens can still relate to. More than anything, Catherine is an amusing character. In her diary entries we get to see exactly how she feels about the suitors and her life, and it is often laughable for the reader to experience. The plot is intriguing and engaging as well, something that reminded me very much of something that Shakespeare would write in one of his own epic comedies. It is quite amusing that this young girl has become so good at getting rid of suitors. Of course, some young readers may be a bit confused by the idea of the protagonist marrying at fourteen, despite that being accurate to the time period.

The themes of this novel are also ones that today's students can still relate to. Catherine is a strong, stubborn character who knows exactly what she wants with her life, and is not afraid to stomp her feet about it from time to time. Catherine longs for a true best friend, there is angst in regards to her parents, she feels misunderstood, and wants to do something that will have some importance in the world. Birdy is flawed and selfish at times, which makes her an even more believable character, and really helps hit home on the themes that are covered.

As far as style, this is another novel that is written in the form of diary entries, and it is nice to see how matters progress in order of occurrence. With the history and time period, I think it is very beneficial to keep the story linear and continually moving forward. Cushman also has a wonderful gift for adding just the right amount of humor to her novel. This story could have easily gotten dull and repetitive had the character not had such an amusing personality. Cushman seems to know just how to give and take to make a successful story.

As far as authenticity goes with this novel, it does seem to be quite accurate. Not only does Cushman explain her love of history and how she spent a great deal of time researching medieval times to make this novel accurate, she has an extensive author's note with an abundance of other English and medieval history that can help to clarify some of the ideas in the story. With the dates and details provided, it is clear that she has done a great deal of research, and this was evident in her writing of the story.

Review Excerpts: 

From Publisher's Weekly: "Birdy's journal, begun as an assignment, first wells up in the reluctant and aggressive prose of hated homework, and then eases into the lighthearted flow of descriptive adventures and true confessions; the narrative device reveals Birdy's passage from rebellious child to responsible adult." 


This book would be a wonderful addition to any study of medieval times. It would be interesting to see a strong female character portrayed at this time period instead of the knights that most people typically think of.

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