Anyway, tonight I want to talk about Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman. This book came out back when I was in maybe the fourth or fifth grade - I thoroughly enjoyed it then, and it was a fun book to revisit. The format of the story is as if you are reading Catherine's diary, which I always like, because I am a nosy person. Obviously, if you are someone who likes having a certain depth in multiple characters, this book is not for you, but I think it is fun to read books set up this way, too.
A major thing that always set this book apart for me is that there is a surprising degree of historical accuracy, especially for children's fiction. It is set during the Middle Ages (the year 1290, to be exact), and through Catherine we are not presented the typical ideal of Medieval life as being romantic and lovely and full of beautiful ladies, chivalrous knights, etc. Cushman gives us more of the reality - it is dirty and although Catherine's mother is a Lady, she herself is not very lady-like.
Catherine is a spunky 14-year-old whose father spends much of the book trying to marry her off to various suitors (operative word: "trying"). Throughout all Catherine's shenanigans in avoiding marriage and in trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life if she is not going to be wed and be a Lady, Cushman presents historical notes as well. We are given a look at daily life in and around a Medieval country manor in England, and also a look at what is happening in the world at large from her relatives (Uncle George is a Crusader in the Holy Land) and visitors to the manor (among them, a band of Jews that takes shelter for a night while making their way out of England, by order of the king).
I really cannot think of anything negative to say about this book. It's cheeky, it's fun, and I have enjoyed it every time I pick it up. And I must not be the only person who thinks it is a good read, since it is a Newbery Honor Book. Not too shabby for it being Cushman's first.
*Side Note: While I have referred to this as "children's fiction," it is really more for older children, as there are a lot of things that some might consider too much for younger kids. For example, there is a miscarriage, references to being "wedded and bedded" and other things of that sort of nature. There aren't any details, of course, but I know some people think these kinds of topics are too delicate or adult to be introduced to kids, so I thought I should mention it here.