Books by Karen Cushman

GRAYLING'S SONG by Karen Cushman
Released: June 7, 2016

"Despite her self-doubt, Grayling is cut from the same cloth as the author's other sturdy heroines, but she is also an entirely original and endearing character that readers will cheer on as she seeks to save her mother and return her world to rights. (Fantasy. 9-12)"
A timid young girl must venture out into the wider world in an effort to find allies and save her mother from malignant magic. Read full book review >
WILL SPARROW'S ROAD by Karen Cushman
Released: Nov. 6, 2012

"A compelling coming-of-age road trip. (author's note, suggested reading, selected resources) (Historical fiction. 8-12)"
In Elizabethan England, young Will hits the road with an assortment of human characters and Duchess, one smart pig. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2010

Queen Elizabeth I is on the throne. London is a sprawling, chaotic city that teems with all manner of humanity. Meggy has come to London ostensibly to serve her alchemist father, a man she has never met. When he rejects her because she is not male and because she is unable to walk normally, she needs all her pluck and determination to rise above her plight. Her loneliness and hunger are assuaged by Roger, an apprentice actor, and his troop of players, as well as a printer and a cooper who become her friends. She works tirelessly to gain her father's respect, but she finds her own self-respect instead. Meggy is a heroine in mind and deed. Cushman has the uncanny ability to take a time and place so remote and make it live. Readers can hear and see and smell it all as if they are right beside Meggy. She employs the syntax and vocabulary of the period so easily that it is understood as if it's the most contemporary modern slang. A gem. (author's note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 14, 2006

It's 1949, and 13-year-old Francine Green lives in "the land of ‘Sit down, Francine' and ‘Be quiet, Francine' " at All Saints School for Girls in Los Angeles. When she meets Sophie Bowman and her father, she's encouraged to think about issues in the news: the atomic bomb, peace, communism and blacklisting. This is not a story about the McCarthy era so much as one about how one girl—who has been trained to be quiet and obedient by her school, family, church and culture—learns to speak up for herself. Cushman offers a fine sense of the times with such cultural references as President Truman, Hopalong Cassidy, Montgomery Clift, Lucky Strike, "duck and cover" and the Iron Curtain. The dialogue is sharp, carrying a good part of this story of friends and foes, guilt and courage—a story that ought to send readers off to find out more about McCarthy, his witch-hunt and the First Amendment. Though not a happily-ever-after tale, it dramatizes how one person can stand up to unfairness, be it in front of Senate hearings or in the classroom. (author's note) (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
RODZINA by Karen Cushman
Released: March 24, 2003

Young, self-reliant, resilient Rodzina (from the Polish for "family") Brodski is an orphan at age 12 in the winter of 1881—her father, mother, and young brothers all dead. She is gathered up in Chicago with other orphans and street children and sent west on one of the "orphan trains" that took children to be placed out on the farms and in the towns of the prairies and mountain states. Among her companions are several younger children Rodzina has known from her days on the street and in the orphanage. As the eldest girl, she is put in charge of these children on the train, and demonstrates her warmth and competence through her grudging attention to them. Along the way, Rodzina goes twice, unwillingly, to unsuitable new homes: once to a couple of women who plan for her to be not only a nursemaid but a farmhand as well, and once to the father of a large hardscrabble family—his wife is dying and he plans to make Rodzina his new wife. Each time Rodzina resourcefully makes her escape and returns to the train. As she continues westward, Rodzina gradually befriends the formidable lady doctor who accompanies the orphans, and begins to long for a new home for herself. The story is undemanding and engaging, rolling along with the journey, subtly letting readers into Rodzina's memories of the home she once had and of her immigrant parents and her Polish heritage. Trina Schart Hyman's intriguing cover art depicts a stocky, fierce young girl—prickly Rodzina with her "stink face" on—and the younger child she shelters. Cushman (Matilda Bone, 2000, etc.) as usual conveys a contemporary feel without anachronism, and the conclusion of Rodzina's journey, though unsurprising, is an agreeable one. (Fiction. 11-13)Read full book review >
MATILDA BONE by Karen Cushman
Released: Oct. 16, 2000

In a carefully researched novel set in the medieval period, the author of The Midwife's Apprentice (1996 Newbery winner) depicts another vivid heroine, left alone to make her place in the world. Having been raised motherless in a fine manor under the tutelage of Father Leufredus, Matilda has learned to read and write Greek and Latin and to pray seven times a day. When the priest leaves her with Red Peg, the bonesetter in Blood and Bone Alley, Matilda disapproves of her new home, her new "mentor" and the requirements of her new job . . . which include tending the fire, cooking, restraining patients, and helping set bones rather than reading, writing, and praying. Gradually Matilda sees the truth: that Father Leufredus will never return, that he never spoke of God's love, and that she was lonely in her former home. She acknowledges the goodness of those who make up her new community, especially the strong women like Peg, with their clever fingers and common sense, whose lives are hard but who laugh more than they frown . . . women who contrast with the men whom Matilda has been conditioned to hold in deference. At the conclusion Matilda comes to terms with the fact that she cannot predict her own future but ". . . whatever it was she believed she could do." This has much to commend it: a robust setting, the author's deft way with imagery (Peg's decent face is "beslobbered with freckles") and an impressive command of medieval medical detail. It is laced with humor, in part due to the structural connective tissue formed by the saint's scornful answers to Matilda's unceasing prayerful pleas. But in the end, Matilda herself comes off, as the saints themselves conclude, as a rather tiresome prig whose journey towards self-discovery, while rich in incident, may not hold quite enough overall plot tension to compel every reader. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 16, 1996

The recent Newbery medalist plunks down two more strong-minded women, this time in an 1849 mining camp—a milieu far removed from the Middle Ages of her first novels, but not all that different when it comes to living standards. Arvella Whipple and her three children, Sierra, Butte, and 11-year-old California Morning, make a fresh start in Lucky Diggins, a town of mud, tents, and rough-hewn residents. It's a far cry from Massachusetts; as her mother determinedly settles in, California rebelliously changes her name to Lucy and starts saving every penny for the trip back east. Ever willing to lose herself in a book when she should be doing errands, Lucy is an irresistible teenager; her lively narration and stubborn, slightly naive self-confidence (as well as a taste for colorful invective: ``Gol durn, rip-snortin' rumhole and cussed, dad-blamed, dag diggety, thundering pisspot,'' she storms) recall the narrator of Catherine, Called Birdy (1994), without seeming as anachronistic. Other characters are drawn with a broader brush, a shambling platoon of unwashed miners with hearts (and in one case, teeth) of gold. Arvella eventually moves on, but Lucy has not only lost her desire to leave California, but found a vocation as well: town librarian. With a story that is less a period piece than a timeless and richly comic coming-of-age story, Cushman remains on a roll. (Fiction. 10- 13) Read full book review >
Released: March 27, 1995

"It's a rouser for all times. (Fiction. 12+)"
During the Middle Ages, an itinerant girl of about 12 or 13 who knows "no home and no mother and no name but Brat" finds refuge one night by burrowing into a village dung heap where the warm, rotting muck will protect her from the bitter cold. Read full book review >
Released: April 18, 1994

Unwillingly keeping a journal at the behest of her brother, a monk, Birdy (daughter of a 13th-century knight) makes a terse first entry—"I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say''—but is soon confiding her pranks and troubles in fascinating detail. Her marriage must suit her drunken father's financial needs, and though the 14-year-old scares off several suitors (she pretends to be mad, sets fire to the privy one is using, etc.), in the end she's "betrothed and betrayed.'' Meanwhile, she observes Edward I's England with keen curiosity and an open mind, paints a mural in her chamber, evades womanly tasks whenever possible, reports that—ladylike or no— "I always have strong feelings and they are quite painful until I let them out,'' and chooses her own special profanity, "God's thumbs.'' At year's end she makes peace with her family and acquires, beyond hope, a possibly compatible betrothed (they have yet to meet). Birdy's frequent saint's day entries begin with pithy summaries of the saints' claims to fame; their dire deaths have a uniquely medieval tang, as do such oddities as St. Bridget turning bathwater into beer. Much else here is casually earthy—offstage bedding among villagers, home remedies, pissing out a fire—while death is commonplace. The period has rarely been presented for young people with such authenticity; the exotic details will intrigue readers while they relate more closely to Birdy's yen for independence and her sensibilities toward the downtrodden. Her tenacity and ebullient naivete are extraordinary; at once comic and thought-provoking, this first novel is a delight. Historical note. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >