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Karen Cushman Author Study
Literature For Young Adults


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 Karen Cushman Author Study. Photo available at the Houghton Mifflin Web site.

Catherine, Called BirdyThe Midwife's ApprenticeThe Ballad of Lucy WhippleMatilda BoneRodzinaKaren Cushman has written these five books.  

Karen Cushman Bibliography (arranged earliest to latest)

All of Karen Cushman's books feature young female protaganists living out everyday life. A recent article stated that she "is famed for her uncompromising heroines." She stated in an interview that she grew tired of hearing about princesses, princes and generals and wanted to learn more about common folk in other time periods. She is known for the amount of research and factual details that she includes in her books. 


Cushman, Karen. 1994. CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0395681863


The young protagonist of this story, fourteen-year-old Catherine, nicknamed Birdy for her love of birds, is plucky and fun. The story, in diary form, is set in 1290 medieval world and is chock full of factual details of the time period. Birdy's father is determined to marry his daughter off to the highest bidder but Catherine outwits all of the potential suitors. This book, Cushman's first, won a Newbery Honor award.    



­­­________. 1995. THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0395692296.


The Midwife's Apprentice won the prestigious Newbery Award. It tells the story of a young orphan girl, Brat, living in medieval England. She is taken under the wing, albeit, not a kindly wing, of the local midwife who calls her Beetle. As Brat grows in confidence and knowledge she renames herself Alyce and decides that what she wants from life is "A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world." The book has a fair dose of humor and ample sampling of compassion.


________. 1996. THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0395728061.


When California Morning "Lucy" Whipple's widowed mother moves from Massachusetts to a mining town in California to sell things to gold miners, Lucy is miserable and wants to return to the East. When she has saved enough money and enough time has passed she learns a lesson about what home really means. Ms. Cushman stated in an interview that she felt similiar to how Lucy did when her family moved to California from Illinois when she was a child.



________. 2000. MATILDA BONE. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 395881560.


Set in the medical district of medieval English township, the young protagonist of this story has to come to terms with what seems to be her fate in life.  Matilda has been raised by priests to be pious, learned and to pray. Now she seems destined to serve Red Peg, the bone setter and is shocked at the worldliness and is dismayed by the menial tasks she is to carry out. According to the Houston Mifflin website, this book is "Filled with the witty dialogue and richly authentic detail that Karen Cushman's work is known for, Matilda Bone is a compelling comic novel about a girl who learns to see herself and others clearly, to laugh, and to live contentedly in this world."



________. 2003. RODZINA. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 0618133518.


This is Karen Cushman's latest book. The young protagonist, twelve-year-old Rodzina, (which significantly means family in Polish), is an orphan on her way from Chicago to California on an orphan train. Take a look at the jacket cover above and see if this is the type of child that you would want to adopt. She is big, bruised in body and in spirit but a spit-fire all the same. Finding a family (love, acceptance) is the theme of this book, and in the end she succeeds. Hooray!


Media Connection

Actress Glenn Close produced a movie adaptation of Karen Cushman's book The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. It was broadcast on CBS-TV, in 2001.

Click here to read more about it.









Interesting Facts About Author Karen Cushman


  • Karen Cushman was born in 1941 near Chicago, IL. She lived there until she was eleven and then moved with her family to Tarzana, CA. She made up plays and stories for the neighborhood children and submitted movie scripts for Elvis to consider (she never heard back.) Currently she lives on Vashon Island in Seattle.


  • Reading was one of her favorite pastimes as a child. She comments "I remember coming home from the first grade with all the books for the entire year and reading them the first night and then crying all night because I knew I would be stuck with those same books all year long."


  • Writing was an early avocation of hers. When teachers discovered her gift for writing she was in demand for speeches and writing contests.


  • When she graduated from high school she was awarded a scholarship that allowed her to go to the college of her choice in America. She chose Stanford and majored in English.


  • She met her husband after graduation when she was working at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. After they got married they moved to Oregon for a short time and had a daughter named Leah.


  • She went on to earn two masters degrees, one in counseling and human behavior and one in museum studies. She became an adjunct faculty member at John F. Kennedy University.


  • She did a lot of reading with her daughter Leah. When her daughter moved from children's books, through YA books and moved on to adult books, Mrs. Cushman stayed in YA books. She said "There is something about the themes of these books that appeal to me--coming of age, the acceptance of responsibility and the development of compassion."


  • She wrote her first book, Catherine, Called Birdy, when she was fifty years old. It took her three years to write it and it won a Newbery Honor award.


  • Her second book, The Midwife's Apprentice, took six months to write and won the Newbery Medal.


  • Karen Cushman is a Secular Humanist.


  • She loves to garden.


  • Her advice to young writers: "Go with your passion." It is clear that this is what Cushman has done. She has taken her expertise knowledge on the medieval time period, her sense of humor, gift of writing and understanding of the human spirit and created stories to encourage that very attribute. Passion. Her antagonists are young females beating the odds against them, creating a life that goes beyond mere survival but a life of passion and meaning.
  • Click this link to go to Page II of the author study. Karen Cushman II