Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Catherine, Called Birdy Audio

Catherine, Called Birdy Audio

Karen Cushman
For ages 12 and up
Unabridged audiobook (Digital)
Performed/read by: Jenny Sterlin
Recorded Books, 2008 

Catherine hates the fact that, as the daughter of a country knight, she is expected to learn how to be a lady and that she is not free to do as she pleases. Catherine - or Birdy as her family call her - hates weaving, sewing and embroidering. She gets tired of treating the people of the manor for "ale head" and she gets no pleasure from making up remedies. More than anything she rebels against the fact that her father, "the beast" can marry her off to whomever he wishes. The village girls are free to choose their own husbands and yet she, a knight's daughter, is not.

   Catherine complains about her lot in life in her journal and tries to come up with alternate plans for her future. Perhaps she could be a puppeteer or sell ribbons at the fair. Perhaps she could become a crusader. In the meantime, she drives off suitors with her outlandish behavior, infuriates her father, frustrates her gentle mother, and gets punished frequently.

   Then Catherine acquires a suitor who will not be driven off. He is a nobleman from Scotland who is uncouth in his appearance and his manners. Catherine is horrified and she determines that no matter what happens she "will not consent" to being paired off with this barbarian. Over and over she repeats these words to herself and she will not be moved from her position. At least she refuses to do so until the day when she goes to a fair and sees someone who is more cruelly imprisoned than she is. At the fair Catherine decides that she must spend some of the money that the nobleman sent her in order to free a dancing bear. Catherine knows that she cannot leave the bear to its fate, and she buys its freedom, thereby forgoing her own. For, once she has spent the money, she cannot refuse to marry the man who sent it to her. Now she is "doomed" and must accept to be wed to "Shaggy Beard". How will she bear it?

   Listeners will be both appalled and intrigued to hear the story of this medieval girl who strains so hard at the bonds that hold her. With her swear words, her dreams of running away, and her outrageous behavior, Catherine is funny, easy to like, and certainly the kind of character that we cannot help rooting for. In the end Catherine discovers that she cannot run away from her fate. Instead she must hold onto who she is no matter where she is sent.