Book Title & Alexandra's Review

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Middle School 

Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man—any rich man, no matter how awful.

But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call—by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all. Unfortunately, he is also the richest.

Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father? Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!


Picture it: Thirteenth-century England. 1290. This story is told in the form of a diary. Many of the diary entries are short, making this a quick read. Although I didn’t understand what Catherine was talking about half the time, the other half I found hilarious.


The story does a great job of depicting what a young woman’s life would have been like in thirteenth-century England. Most of Catherine’s days are filled with chores, mainly hemming and sewing. Back then, days were filled with chores and not much else. Everything had to be done by hand, and it took forever. I was most intrigued by the book-making process and making soap out of goose fat.


I’m not sure if Catherine’s headstrong personality is authentic to the time period. I’m pretty sure any girl with high spirits back then had it beaten out of her. Catherine is slapped and beaten quite a bit but manages to stay strong.


I didn’t understand a lot of the terms and references. For example, at one point, Catherine started including Saint’s days at the beginning of each diary entry. I don’t have a frame of reference for any of them. Here are a few that amused me the most:

Feast of Saint Cuthbert, first man ever to shoe a horse

Feast of Saint Colman, an Irish bishop who taught a mouse to keep him awake in chapel

Feast of Saint Birstan, who once when praying for the dead heard them answer “Amen”

Feast of Saint Minver, who threw her comb at the Devil

Feast of Saint Brigid of Ireland, who turned her bathwater into beer for visiting monks

Feast of Saint Cuthman, a hermit and beggar who took his crippled mother everywhere with him in a wheelbarrow

Feast of Saint Ciaran of Clonmacnoise, an Irish abbot who used a fox to carry his papers until it ate them

Feast of Saint Edith, virgin, whose thumb remained uncorrupted after death


Check out the Author’s note for historical background information.


The film rendition was pretty good. I thought the use of modern-day music was an interesting choice. Bella Ramsey’s portrayal of Catherine was spot on. I skipped over the two scenes where Catherine’s mother gives birth. The ending was changed, which I liked more than the original ending.

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