Catherine Called Birdy

book talk

author/illustrator study

list of related books

web activity


Catherine, Called Birdy
Book Talk

    The book Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman takes place in medieval England in 1290.  Birdy is the 14 year old daughter of an English country knight who is very inventive and humorous.  The book is written in journal form because Birdy's brother, who is a monk, taught her to read and write and he suggested to her that writing the account of her days will help her grow "less childish and more learned."  Each different passage tells of the adventures of her days and how her parents are trying to make her act like a lady so her father can marry her off.  Birdy hates to act like a lady and doesn't want to get married.  This journal describes her adventures throughout a year of her daily life and her efforts to get rid of any male suitor that her father wants her to marry.

Author Summary
   "Everything I know I've learned from books," says Karen.  This is very obvious in her writing style.  Karen Cushman is the author of several historical novels for young adults including the Newberry honor winner, Catherine Called Birdy.  She has also written, The Midwife's Apprentice, the 1996 Newberry award winner, and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple.  All of Karen's books involve a great deal of historical research.  She uses primary sources such as letters, journals, and personal papers.  She also reads books about food, attitudes, people and places of the past.  She also read other historical young adult books by Rosemary Sutcliffe and Patricia MacLachlan to help her gain a better understanding of historical fiction.Her books are appealing to young people because they are easy to relate to for young adults, particularly females.  All of her books contain a female protagonist which goes through some sort of ordeal such as finding identity, responsibilities, limitations, and family.  Karen Cushman's books are a great source for the classroom because they are so factual.  For example, the feast days in Catherine Called Birdy are authentic.  Karen puts much time into her books for young adults, making them wonderful reading for teachers and students alike.

Web Activity
In Catherine Called Birdy, which takes place in medieval times, castles are the types of homes that are commonplace.  As a historical connection, have the students access Journey Through The Middle Ages at

1.  Students will begin this interactive adventure by clicking continue and that they have been to the castle before.  Click for informativie topics and click on inside and outside the castle.
2.  Students will use the information on castles to design a blueprint of their very own castle.
3.  Students can also access to look at photos of various castles to help them visually design what they want their blueprint to look like.
4.  Approximate time for the activity is 35-40 minutes.
5.  Have the students share their blueprints with the class.

Book List
Other books by Karen Cushman:
The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. Houghton Mufflin Co., 1996
The Midwife's Apprentice. Bantam Books, 1996

Other books about the Middle Ages:
Cantor, Thomas E. The Civilizations of the Middle Ages: A Completely Revised & Expanded Edition of Medieval History, the Life & Death of a Civilization. Harperperennial Library, 1994
Pernoud, Regina. Those Terrible Middle Ages! Debunking the Myths. Ignatius Press, 2000
Hyman, Arthur, James J. Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. Hackett Publishing Company, 1983
Gies, Joseph & Frances. Life in a Medieval City, Life in a Medieval Village & Life in a Medieval Castle. Bantam Books, 1993
Other books in diary form:
Helen Fieldings, Bridget Jones' Diary: A Novel. Penguin USA, 1999
Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Bantam Books, 1993

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