Sunday, September 2, 2007

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Catherine lives during the Middle Ages when her options about how she will live her life are not great. She is fourteen, old enough to be married, and her father seems to be chomping at the bit to get rid of her. She has no desire to be married off, and certainly not to the men her father keeps bringing to the house. She works hard to repulse anyone who shows up and is quite successful until she meets Shaggy Beard, who is as determined to marry her as she is determined not to marry him. Who will prevail in this battle of wills?

We often think of the Middle Ages in romantic terms, but Karen Cushman doesn’t allow that. In Catherine, Called Birdy we are “treated” to all the sights and (especially) the smells of this era. Cushman also makes it painfully clear how few choices women were allowed back then. Give me the 21st Century any day.

This is at least the fourth time that Catherine, Called Birdy has been on the rotation for North Carolina Battle of the Books, but it had been a long time since I had read it. I really enjoy Cushman’s sense of humor. My only question is whether students will give the book enough of a chance to appreciate it. Except for the years that it is on the list, I don’t think anyone checks it out. I’m glad I reread it this year – I will push it in future years so that hopefully others will give it a chance.

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