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Catherine, Called Birdy
Catherine Called Birdy cover.jpg
1994 Edition
Author Karen Cushman
Illustrator None
Country England
Language English
Genre Historical Fiction
Publisher Clarion Books
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 169
ISBN 978-03-9568186-2

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 in 1995.

Plot summary

The following is a description of the novel as it appears on the cover: "[T]he fourteen-year-old daughter of an English country knight keeps a journal in which she records the events of her life, particularly her longing for adventures beyond the usual role of woman and her efforts to avoid being married off. An afterword discusses the mindset of medieval people and concludes with a list of books to consult for further information about the period."

The story begins in September 1290, when Catherine describes her world: her father's manor, her father and mother themselves (her father is bawdy, loud and disagreeable; her mother, kind and sweet), and the different people she comes in contact with on a daily basis. The novel is marked by the Catholic Saints' Days. Catherine is referred to as "Birdy" because she keeps many birds as pets. Catherine has three older brothers. Her eldest brother Robert, is a knight. He weds his betrothed though she is only twelve, and she dies from complications while giving birth to their child. Her second brother is Thomas, and he is in the king's service. Edward, to whom she is closest to and corresponds with, is a monk who lives in an abbey nearby.

Catherine's relationship with her parents is a longstanding plot of the book. Her mother wishes her to be an accomplished and docile lady, while her father wishes to make advantageous social connections through her marriage. Several suitors approach Stonebridge Manor with the intention of wooing the Lady Catherine, but all fall short of Birdy's expectations and devices. Eventually, Catherine's father demands her to marry an old, repulsive man whom she calls "Shaggy Beard" in her diary. She spends the year described in her diary fighting the marriage. She refuses to marry him. She comes up with many different plots to escape, and alternate versions of her life where she will run away and be a monk, or escape overseas and go on the Crusades.

One of the largest subplots of the book occurs when her favorite Uncle, George, comes home from the Crusades and falls in love with Catherine's best friend, Lady Aelis. However, because George does not have a high position in society, they cannot marry, and both end up marrying others (George, a crazy older woman named Ethelfritha, who was struck by lightning, Aelis first to a seven-year-old duke, and later to Catherine's brother, Robert). She begins to wonder about fate, love, and responsibility.

As the day approaches for Catherine's official betrothal, she runs away to her Uncle and Aunt. She realizes that she herself will be the same no matter who she marries; thus, she allows her uncle to take her home. However, when she arrives home, she is confronted with the happy news that Shaggy Beard has died in a tavern brawl and she is now engaged to his son, Stephen, who is clean and young and educated. This match pleases her greatly, and she starts to dream about being married to him, counting down the days to when she can see him.

Catherine, Called Birdy discusses everything from the mundane events of her life (killing fleas, spinning and embroidery) to festivals and holidays (such as Easter or May Day, many of which are celebrated by the entire village) to her travels in England, which are limited (she goes, for example, to Lincoln with her father, or to spend a few days at Lady Aelis' manor).

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