Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (1994)

This first time I read Catherine, Called Birdy, I remember liking it very much and laughing out loud quite a bit.  I wasn't quite as enamored of the book this second time, fourteen years later or so, but I still mostly enjoyed it.    I picked it up as a companion to The Lady of the Rivers - when the Woodvilles send their daughter Elizabeth off to live with the Greys (the family of her future first husband), I thought I could read Catherine, Called Birdy to see what life was like for a medieval girl of some means.  Catherine's family and the Woodvilles wouldn't have been all that different; the Woodvilles were most definitely more highly set than Catherine's family.

I wondered a bit who the audience was for this book.  Sitting down reading it as an adult, I understand some the jokes are on her, and all 13 year old girls. For example:   “I am near fourteen and have never yet seen a hanging. My life is barren.”  As a 43 year old man, I get that we are meant to laugh at Catherine because she's speaking like a 13 year old girl would today.  I'm not sure, however, that a 13 year old girl would find that as funny.  Maybe they would though.

Catherine, Called BirdyCatherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the second time I've read Catherine, Called Birdy, and I still enjoyed it fourteen years later.  The book is hilarious in parts, moving in others, and Catherine acts and speaks and thinks like a real 13 year old girl with real (albeit medieval) problems.  Some of those problems will be familiar to 21st century thirteen year olds - friends, boys, crushes,chores, parents.  And some will be shocking - arrange marriage to a man the same age as your father, for example.  Or fleas. Or witnessing an execution of boys younger than you.  Much up for discussion here.  Cushman's world of 1290 is made to seem both near and far from our own.


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