September 6th, 2014

The fleas! The dirt! The dung!

Catherine, Called BirdyThe first time I read Catherine, Called Birdy wasn’t all that long ago, only about six years ago. But the first time I heard about it was in January of 1995, at ALA Midwinter. This was my first time attending ALA, so I was thrilled just to be there and not sure what to expect. I’ll admit to being a little taken aback by all the buzz about one book—Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. Whatever committee meeting I went to the librarians couldn’t say enough good things about this book. The fleas! The dirt! The dung! They were agog over the level of detail in the story. And then there was Catherine, called Birdy. She is so strong, independent, intelligent—someone today’s teens can relate to, even if she is living in a 13th century British manor. (“Today” being twenty years ago, of course. But I would bet those librarians would feel the same in regard to today’s—as in right now—teens too.) All this raving about Birdy made me a bit skeptical. (Seriously, it was a lot.) Can one book be that good?

The answer is yes, most definitely yes, indefatigably yes: A book can be that good. The fleas! The dirt! The dung! I, too, was besotted by every detail. I could taste and feel and smell life in medieval times. And Birdy! I wish Karen had been writing when I was fourteen. I would have completely connected to Birdy’s desire to get out from beneath her parents and the life they want for her. My parents never tried to marry me off, but the life they presented for me felt just as burdensome, and I longed to get out from under it. I wanted to be Julia, not my parents’ daughter. In the end, my life turned out okay, just like Birdy’s does. But I could have used her guidance when I was young. My only regret in regards to this book is that I didn’t read it sooner.

I have my own children now, and I’m sure one day they will feel the same way as Birdy: restless and yearning for something different from the life being offered. When that time comes, I will hand them Catherine, Called Birdy and say, read it; may it guide you on your discovery of whom you are and the path you will take. And then I will thank Birdy and Karen for letting me borrow their words of wisdom.

Happy birthday, Birdy!!!


Julia Richardson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Editorial Director, Paperbacks

An Amazing Journey

Vashon BookshopCatherine, Called Birdy  is one of my favorite books to recommend. I know the reader will have an amazing journey through history with a strong, tenacious, witty, imaginative character. So often, once they have read Catherine, they come back for more of Karen’s books.

Congratulation, Karen your books are so essential for our Kids.

Thank you,
Nancy Katica
Vashon Bookshop

Anniversary Greetings from Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since Birdy burst upon the scene, tangling her yarn and scaring off suitors, bringing the fleas and rats and dirt of the 14th century into the family rooms of the 20th century, enchanting us with her indomitable spirit and making room in our hearts, as Karen Cushman says in her author’s note, for “all sorts of different people” who are in some ways vastly different from our modern selves. Bravo for Birdy! I imagine Birdy at twenty, perhaps a mother now herself, accomplished in the lady arts but fighting to stay authentically herself despite the expectations of her era, and inspiring us to do the same in ours. —Susan Fletcher

More about author Susan Fletcher

Dorothy Love begins the celebration

The month of May begins our countdown to Catherine, Called Birdy‘s 20th birthday. Can it really be that long?

Dorothy writes:

“File this one under ‘good karma.’ First some background:  This week,  my dear friend, Her Awesomeness Karen Cushman is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her Newbery-honor winning novel, Catherine, Called Birdy. Set in Medieval England, the novel is written in the form of a journal kept by young Catherine who is rebellious, smart, and determined to avoid marriage to the odious man her father has chosen for her.” Read more on Dorothy’s blog.

You’ll want to learn more about Dorothy on her site and read her books if you haven’t yet. She’s delightful!

Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida