Parents' Guide to

Catherine, Called Birdy

By Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 10+

Spirited novel offers warts-and-all view of the Middle Ages.

Catherine, Called Birdy Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 15+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 12+

She's a Damsel, She's in Distress...She Can Handle This.

Thirteen-year-old Catherine is growing up in 1290 England. Thus, she's already expected to act like an adult as her mother trains her to become a lady of the manor. But Catherine wants nothing to do with this, and she certainly doesn't want her blowhard father to marry her off to a rich, ugly, unpleasant baron. Catherine will concoct any plan and pull any prank to keep herself from this fate, sometimes with hilarious results. She tells us all about it, and Medieval life, in the diary she keeps at the behest of her beloved brother Edward, a monk at a nearby monastery. Catherine is an intelligent, spunky character who's way ahead of her time. She struggles with things modern readers can relate to: obeying parents, accepting societal expectations, and crafting her own identity. Funnily enough, she wants to be anyone but herself; she considers becoming a nun, a juggler, a minstrel, and all manner of other occupations to avoid marriage. In the end though, she does learn her own value, and finds happiness in her position. The Middle Ages was a rather gross and gritty time period, and the author stays true to that. Bodily functions and diseases are discussed, as is death by childbirth, sometimes in detail. Sexual interaction, even incest, is hinted at with less than discretion. Catherine and other characters swear. Catherine's father regularly abuses her physically; she and other characters see this as completely normal. These things said, Catherine, Called Birdy is a great intro to the Middle Ages for appropriate audiences.

This title has:

Educational value
Great role models
Too much swearing
1 person found this helpful.
age 18+

A sad disappointment

The interesting description on the back of the book, and the awards the book has won, led me to believe this would be a fun and educational read, for me and my grandchildren. I was wrong. I finally gave up one third of the way through the book. The main character lies, swears, manipulates, denigrates her father, is very casual about premarital sex, looks up incantations, and is not a role model for anyone. There are many historical fiction books that give a good feeling for the culture and time, and also manage to portray values worth learning. This is not one of them. This book actually makes light of, or glorifies, things we would not want to see in our children.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (2):
Kids say (4):

Catherine, Called Birdy holds special appeal for preteen girls who enjoy period fiction, as this Newbery winner accomplishes what the best historical novels do. It draws readers into a rich, well-realized world where the trappings are fascinatingly old-fashioned, but the characters are universal and relatable. This book teaches a great deal about England in 1290 -- revealing customs, gender roles, daily activities, religious views, etc. -- but does so within the framework of an engaging story about a smart, fierce, warmhearted girl that modern readers will love.

Book Details

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