Brief Description: 14 yo daughter of a lord rebels against her father’s plans for her marriage in Medieval England.
Historical Era: Middle Ages
Date Range: 1290
Original Publication: 1994
Suitable for Grades: 3-8th
Target Audience: Middle Grade
Catherine, nicknamed “Birdy,” is the spunky fourteen-year-old daughter of a minor English lord who does not want to be married off to the wealthiest suitor by her greedy father. When her father does entertain a potential mate for Birdy, she does her best to appear unattractive and uncouth, with much humorous effect. She mostly spends her days happily avoiding chores, seeking companionship with her best friend the goatherd, and wishing she had the “freedoms” of the local serfs to be outside and get dirty. She sometimes runs off to enjoy a fair. She constantly rails against the constrained role for women, complains about the unfairness of her life, and grudgingly loves her family.
This Newbery Award winning coming-of-age novel takes the form of a diary, which Birdy is tasked to write for her brother after he joins a monastery. In addition to chronicling her daily adventures, she includes short and humorous biographical notes about the saints being celebrated each day. We learn much of daily medieval English life, such as how to make soap, ridiculous medicinal cures for various maladies, and house construction. We also learn about illuminated manuscripts and bookmaking when she visits her brother in his scriptorium.
The novel ends well and satisfyingly. By the time the year is up, she has grown to accept and appreciate the people around her, noting that they “are like onions. On the outside smooth and whole and simple but inside ring upon ring, complex and deep.” Study guides can be found here: publisher HarperStacks website or author Karen Cushman’s website.