Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman is probably the book that instigated my addiction to children’s literature. This book has the complexity, themes, and depth to reach an audience beyond children and young adults. Told in diary format over the course of a year, the reader is given insight to all aspects of medieval life: the celebrations, the work, the religious climate, the lack of personal hygiene, the superstitions, the culture, and the realities. A delightful bonus is the sprinkling of tidbits detailing the various saints and their feasts. This is historical fiction at its best! However, the true charm of the book lies in its fourteen year-old protagonist, Catherine. Catherine isn’t a flat, place-holding character. She is a breathing, three-dimensional young woman who is stubborn, strong, compassionate, belligerent, rebellious, melodramatic, insightful, thoughtful, humorous, and complex. Expert pacing leads to a perfect ending. Regardless of age, everyone should become acquainted with Catherine. I am so glad that I did!
Violence consists of the occasional cuffing of the protagonist by her father for her belligerence. There is also a drunken brawl and a reported hanging. The protagonist entertains thoughts of how her betrothed might suffer a violent death, thus freeing her from a marriage she does not want.
There are references to the different ways saints have died martyrs and so forth. Regarding profanity, almost none is present that is common today. However, the main character does experiment with developing her own “special profanity”. Some language used was the common vernacular of medieval times, but would seem a bit coarse if used today.
Sexual content is non-graphic and includes such items as the protagonist wondering if she could disguise her feminine features so she could pass as a boy, passing comments on the virginal status of some village girls, and a reference to some characters “snuggled in the hay.”
Mature Subject Matter:
Mature themes relate to the harshness of medieval life (this isn’t Camelot) and the realities of a girl growing up in a male-dominated society.
Alcohol / Drug Use: