I am a firm believer that every child should have a historical fiction novel amongst his/her list of Top 10 Favorite Books.
What? You don't have a historical fiction book on your Top 10 List of Favorite Books? WHAT??? You don't have a list of Top 10 Favorite Books???
Okay. Here's what you need to do right this instant: read this review, then go track down a copy of the book and bury your nose in it until you're finished. (No, you may NOT get a snack and no you may NOT sleep. If you must use the bathroom I expect the book to accompany you.) Once you have accomplished this, form a list of your Top 10 Favorite Books and place this one somewhere close to the top.
There, you are now whole.
Not only is Catherine, Called Birdy one of my all-time-absolute- favorite-no-questions-asked historical fiction books, but it also includes one of my all-time-absolute-favorite-no-questions-asked characters. I love this book and I love this character. Here's why:
The story takes place in 13th century Medieval England. Catherine (or Birdy, as she is called by her family) is the 14-year-old daughter of a country knight who spends her days pining for freedom from her mundane chores and foiling her father's attempts to marry her off. As part of a bargain with her older brother, Edward, Birdy keeps a diary for a year, and it is through her writing that we learn about daily life in the manor. Birdy is remarkably clever and has a sharp tongue to match, often earning her a day locked in her chamber as punishment. She invents wonderful songs, catchy curse words, and potions to cure the villagers of everything from "ale head" to "putrid stomach." More than anything, I loved reading Birdy's hilarious accounts of warding off potential suitors. As the book drew to a close, I couldn't help but wish for Birdy to journal another year in her life. Strangely, I also had a sudden urge to take a steaming hot bath, and to call my dad and thank him profusely for not forcing me into a marriage with someone called Shaggy Beard.
24th Day of September
The stars and my family align to make my life black and miserable. My mother seeks to make me a fine lady--dumb, docile, and accomplished--so I must take lady lessons and keep my mouth closed. My brother Edward thinks even girls should not be ignorant, so he taught me to read Holy books and write, even though I would rather sit in an apple tree and wonder. Now my father, the toad, conspires to sell me like cheese to some lack-wit seeking a wife. What makes this clodpole suitor anxious to have me? I am no beauty, being sun-browned and gray-eyed, with poor eyesight and a stubborn disposition. Corpus bones! He comes to dine with us in two days' time. I plan to cross my eyes and drool in my meat.
Disclaimer: This book is for MATURE readers only. How do you know if you are mature enough to read it? Do you giggle uncontrollably at the mention of "passing wind" or "making water?" Does the thought of kissing make you hurl and gag? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, wait another five years before you check out this book.
Recipe to Read By: Soul Cakes
Children in medieval villages such as Birdy's went from door to door on Oct. 31 (All Hallow's Eve), Nov. 1 (All Saint's Day), & Nov. 2 (All Soul's Day) begging for Soul Cakes:
"Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake. An apple, a plum,
a peach, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us merry."
Ingredients1 cup butter, two sticks American
3 3/4 cups sifted flour
1 cup fine sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cider vinegar (I know, weird!)
4-6 tablespoons milk
powdered sugar, to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or a large fork.
Blend in the sugar, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and allspice; beat eggs, vinegar, and milk together.
Mix with the flour mixture until a stiff dough is formed.
Knead thoroughly and roll out 1/4-inch thick.
Cut into 3-inch rounds and place on greased baking sheets.
Prick several times with a fork and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar while still warm.
Lick off the powdered sugar and sprinkle them all again. No one will know.
(This is Birdy's idea--not mine!)
Read more about medieval food here: