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.
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.