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The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

The Midwife's Apprentice (1995)

by Karen Cushman

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,3741032,485 (3.69)99
In medieval England, a nameless, homeless girl is taken in by a sharp-tempered midwife, and in spite of obstacles and hardship, eventually gains the three things she most wants: a full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.

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The Midwife's Apprentice won the Newbery Medal in 1996 as "the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children." Only 122 pages, it packs in a lot of historical detail, an engaging heroine, and a story of perseverance.

Brat is an orphan girl found on a dung heap by Jane, a medieval village midwife in England, who takes her on as a helper and calls her Beetle.

Beetle has lots of experiences that illustrate typical life in the 1300s, as well as increasing her self-confidence and her determination of what her "place in this world" should be. Eventually she names herself Alyce, and even learns to read.

Despite its short length, the reading level (6.0) and some of the subject matter (women and animals giving birth) make this book more appropriate for middle school and up. A number of other Newbery Medalists are set in this era and could be used in a history unit on the Middle Ages.

© Amanda Pape - 2015 ( )
  rdg301library | Oct 2, 2019 |
This book has a writing style that I have never seen before. Not like “whoa this is going to change everything about the literature world” but it has a flavor. It flies fast. It’s terse. It has no fluff and buff. All fat is trimmed. The result is that the story feels lean but still passionate, like a summer love affair. “Show, don’t tell” in spades. And a main character that gets you right in the feels without being a perfect lady. You can feel the authentic historical accuracy. But despite the age of the protagonist, it’s not for anyone who hasn’t had “the talk” yet.

The atmosphere feels like a fantasy story, but it deals with the common people living in the outskirts. The ones far away from knights or dragons or princesses. This one’s got cheese as a delicacy, sleeping in dung for warmth, and some very satisfying revenge plots. Not to mention social issues, including but not limited to: verbal abuse, breastfeeding, swearing, transgenderism, marital infidelity, superstitious demon possession, and catching some teenagers in the farm shed doing you-know-what. If that doesn’t make for a good book, I don’t know what does. ( )
  theWallflower | Feb 14, 2019 |
A nameless abandoned child in 14th century England is begrudgingly taken in by Jane, a town's midwife. Jane takes in the girl, who she dubs "Beetle" only to use her, but with a roof over her head and some reliable source of food - even if it isn't very good food - the girl finds it a welcome change to sleeping on a dung pile.
In time, she begins to learn some aspects of midwifery by observing Jane, though the woman doesn't want to teach her. She names herself Alyce eventually.
A well done historical novel, and probably rather accurate in many ways. Still, the lack of kindness and honesty among the supporting characters was a detriment for my taste. The scholar, John Dark, and the boys Edward and Will, are the only characters that seem to care anything for Alyce at all. Everyone else, adult and child, are cruel (in varying degrees) to her.
In the end, Alyce learns that she is a real person of value. ( )
  fingerpost | Aug 19, 2018 |
If you’re cold with no place to go, then sleeping in a dung heap is not so bad. Being called Dung Beetle isn’t so bad either. When a poor village girl is discovered in a dung heap by the town midwife, she eagerly accepts some scraps of food in exchange for her service as the midwife’s apprentice. Beetle proves to be a quick learner and all is well until she runs into trouble with a difficult delivery. Feeling like a failure, she sets out on her own to try to find her place in life. This is a story of a lost girl in search of a name and a purpose, who ultimately realizes that you should never give up. This book is a great example of the power of humor to engage a reader. Highly recommend this and all of Cushman's books. ( )
  valorrmac | May 15, 2018 |
Alyce is a young girl in medieval England who is making her own way the best she can. Life is hard and cruel for her. It takes all her effort to keep herself warm and fed. The midwife takes her on as a helper and it is there that the world opens up to her bit by bit. Ultimately, she discovers that she needs to do what she wants even if that road is not the most comfortable or easiest.

Karen Cushman's storytelling comes easily and this book is delightful. I think it's a fine match for 5th or 6th graders who are ready to start making some decisions. We could use this book in class as a basis for discussing choice and opportunity costs. Alyce needed to think carefully before she chose, and students would do well do imagine what other choices may have looked like. ( )
  AlbertPascal | Feb 27, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Karen Cushmanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hyman, Trina S.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ibatoulline, BagramCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Philip and Dinah,
Alyce's midwives
First words
When animal droppings and garbage and spoiled straw are piled up in a great heap, the rotting and moiling give forth heat.
She chewed on a lock of her hair to help her think. What did people want? Blackberry pie? New shoes? A snug cottage and a bit of land? She thought all that wet afternoon and finally, as she served Magister Reese his cold-beef-and-bread supper, she cleared her throat a time or two and then sofly answered: “I know what I want. A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.”
If Beetle had known any prayers, she might have prayed for the cat. If she had known about soft sweet songs, she might have sung to him. If she had known of gentle words and cooing, she would have spoken gently to him. But all she knew was cursing: “Damn you, cat, breathe and live, you flea-bitten sod, or I'll kill you myself.”
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A homeless girl in Medieval England finds a place when she becomes a midwife's apprentice.
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