Friday, August 23, 2013

Catherine, Called Birdy

1994, 1995 HarperTrophy edition
Karen Cushman
Catherine, Called Birdy
Bought newish for $4.95
Very worn paperback

This won the Newbery Honor and I remember preferring it to Cushman's Midwife's Apprentice, which won the award the next year.  They're both set in the Middle Ages, although this is the more humorous book.  It's about Catherine, who is called Birdy because she has pet birds.  (I've never liked the title, it sounds like it means that Birdy is calling Catherine.)  It's set in England in the early 1290s, as Birdy turns from 13 to 14 and fights her father's attempts to marry her off.  Despite the Newbery nomination, it's on the borderline between a children's book and one for young adults.  My copy says "12up," and that sounds right.  There's mild profanity (e.g. "piss") and mild sexual themes, and yes, mild violence.  But it all feels period-authentic.

Whether Catherine is authentically medieval is less clear.  I do think there were girls who rebelled against the rules of the time, if not necessarily in the ways she does.  In a different way than Jo March, Birdy is tamed and domesticated, while still retaining her individuality.

I didn't find the book hilarious or gripping this time.  (I think I liked it most on first reading, although I wasn't crazy about the ending, or at least the events leading up to the ending.)  But it's still a spritely yet educational read, the journal format making it zip along.  

Incidentally, while the Newbery winner for the year, Walk Two Moons, is possibly better than this book, I actually prefer Sharon Creech's first novel, Absolutely Normal Chaos, which is in the form of a journal.  (I don't own any of Creech's books though.)  And I think Midwife's Apprentice should've lost to Christopher Paul Curtis's The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963, which is better than Curtis's award-winning Bud, Not Buddy.  Good thing I'm not on the committee I guess.

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