Happy Birthday, Birdy!

File this one under “good karma”. First some background:  This week,  my dear friend, Her Awesomeness Karen Cushman is celebrating the 20th anniversary of her Newbery-honor winning novel, Catherine, Called Birdy. Set in Medieval England, the novel is written in the form of a journal kept by young Catherine who is rebellious, smart, and determined to avoid marriage to the odious man her father has chosen for her.

Karen far left, me third from left in black. At ACA in Florida.

Karen far left, me third from left in black. At ACA in Florida.

Her journal opens with this entry: “I am commanded to write an account of my days. I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all I have to say. ” I was captivated by Birdy’s voice and by Karen’s masterly command of the details of life in the 13th century. I read the book straight through and then read it again. In awe of Karen’s immense talent.

Birdy won a Newbery honor in 1995 and the Golden Kite, awarded by the Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators. At the Society’s annual conference in Los Angeles, I happened to run into Karen during a break, as we were both looking at a display of books. My own first middle grade novel had just been published but I was so star-struck when I came face to face with Karen that I could only  blurt “I love your book!” before moving off. To me, Karen was the rock star of the children’s book world.

Fast forward to 2006. By then Karen and I had both published a number of other books ( The Midwife’s Apprentice, her second novel, won the Newbery Medal). One day I came across an announcement from the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. Karen was coming to lead a three week workshop as the first children’s writer in residence ever at ACA. Attendance was by invitation only, based on an application submitted to Karen. I applied, and that September, found myself once more face to face with this author of immense talent and boundless grace. Along with a handful of other authors, some published, some not yet published, I soaked up as much of Karen’s good humor and wisdom as I could. Despite geographical separation and my defection to the adult market, our friendship has endured.

Happy Birthday, Birdy! Congratulations, dearest Karen. May your books last and last for generations to come.