Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman
This Newbery Honor Book by the author of The Midwifes Apprentice
and Matilda Bone
is, like those other books, a historical novel set in Medieval England. The year 1290 to be more precise. It is told in the form of the diary of a strong-willed knights daughter who, at the age of 14, is starting to notice boys, worrying about whose bride she will be (not that she has any choice), and learning to use herbs to treat the sick and injured. She loves birds, she paints murals on her chamber wall, she thinks highly of the goat boy Perkin who wants to be a scholar, and she goes through all the guilt, temper-tantrums, hopeless crushes, dreadful fear, joy and sorrow and every other thing that would be experienced by any other 13th-century girl you might happen to know.
Its an enjoyable story, not in the sense of a great adventure or a mystery that keeps you guessing, but in the sense of a beautiful depiction of life in a bygone age, with a spirited narrator and a bit of drama and suspense. Also, most of the entries in the diary, which covers more than a years time, include a description of who the saint of the day isjustifying Catherines own comment that religion is often very mysterious.
Let me give you three more reasons to pick this book. First, like other books by this author, it ends with an informative historical note. Second, unlike those books, the historical note in turn ends with a list of other books you might like to try. And finally, there are ample examples of passages like this one...
I watched the early morning light pass over and through the windows of colored glass, leaving streaks of red and green and yellow on the stone floor. When I was little, I used to try to capture the colored light. I thought I could hold it in my hand and carry it home. Now I know it is like happinessit is there or it is not, and you cannot hold it or keep it.
...Perhaps you will be lured by the cover art and jacket note that suggests that this book is about the pranks a girl pulls to scare away unsuitable suitors. But in truth, that is only the smallest part of the pleasure of reading this book. Still, even if you opened this book for the wrong reason, Ill bet you finished it with pleasure.
Recommended Age: 12+
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