A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Newbery-winning novel Catherine, Called Birdy describes the life of a 13th-century English upper-class family through the eyes of 13-year-old Catherine, the youngest child and the only girl when the book begins. Catherine writes regularly in a journal her brother Edward gave her, and her entries offer a richly detailed portrait of family life, customs, and lifestyle in her world. The book delves especially deeply into the impact of marriage customs and gender roles on young people of the period. Catherine dreams up plan after plan to avoid being pursued by suitors whom her father hopes will offer large sums for her hand in marriage. There are some violent (but not graphic) and disturbing scenes, including a difficult childbirth and a deadly infection resulting from a stabbing. Though there's no overt sexual activity, readers are made aware that unmarried characters have sex, and a 12-year-old girl is impregnated by her fiance.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY describes a year in the life of an upper-class 13-year-old girl whose father wants to marry her off in exchange for increased wealth. When the book begins, Catherine has just been given a journal by her brother Edward, and in it, she tells about her daily life, her frustration over the limited choices and activities available to girls, and her powerful wish not to marry any of the suitors that her father favors. Catherine is a smart, high-spirited, rebellious young girl, and she comes up with all kinds of schemes to avoid marriage. She also expresses disapproval of brutish behavior of any kind, including the Edict of Expulsion (1290), which decreed that all Jews must leave England. As Catherine is pulled, kicking and screaming, toward her own adulthood, she learns a lot about the value of home and family, and she finds peace in the knowledge that no one can take her true self away.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the important lesson Catherine learns from the Jewish family that spends a night at the Hall. What do you think that lesson is?
In what ways does good historical fiction give you a picture of life in another time? Do you think it would be nice to live in 13th-century England? Why or why not?
Try keeping a journal for a few days. Does it help you to express your feelings through journaling?
- Author: Karen Cushman
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date: May 28, 1994
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 176
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: June 4, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love historical and coming-of-age fiction
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.