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The Midwife's Apprentice [Paperback]

Karen Cushman
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 16, 1996
'Like Cushman's 1995 Newbery Honor Book, Catherine, Called Birdy, this novel is about a strong young woman in medieval England who finds her own way home. This is a world, like Chaucer's, that's . . . dangerous, primitive and raucous. From the first page you're caught by the spirit of the homeless, nameless waif, somewhere around 12 years old. She gets the village midwife to take her in, befriends a cat, names herself Alyce, and learns something about delivering babies. When she fails, she runs away, but she picks herself up again and returns to work and independence.' --ALA Booklist (starred review). '. . .A fascinating view of a far distant time.' -- The Horn Book (starred review)

Editorial Reviews Review

Karen Cushman likes to write with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek, and her feisty female characters firmly planted in history. In The Midwife's Apprentice, which earned the 1996 Newbery Medal, this makes a winning combination for children and adult readers alike. Like her award-winning book Catherine, Called Birdy, the story takes place in medieval England. This time our protagonist is Alyce, who rises from the dung heap (literally) of homelessness and namelessness to find a station in life--apprentice to the crotchety, snaggletoothed midwife Jane Sharp. On Alyce's first solo outing as a midwife, she fails to deliver. Instead of facing her ignorance, Alyce chooses to run from failure--never a good choice. Disappointingly, Cushman does not offer any hardships or internal wrestling to warrant Alyce's final epiphanies, and one of the book's climactic insights is when Alyce discovers that lo and behold she is actually pretty! Still, Cushman redeems her writing, as always, with historical accuracy, saucy dialogue, fast-paced action, and plucky, original characters that older readers will eagerly devour. (Ages 12 and older) --Gail Hudson

From Publishers Weekly

In reviewing this 1996 Newbery winner, PW said that Cushman "has an almost unrivaled ability to build atmosphere, and her evocation of a medieval village, if not scholarly in its authenticity, is supremely colorful and pungent." Ages 8-12.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (August 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006440630X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0064406307
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #597,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, Illinois and lives now on Vashon Island west of Seattle, Washington. She received an M.A. in human behavior and one in museum studies. Ms. Cushman has had a lifelong interest in history. She says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, presidents. I wanted to know what ordinary life was like for ordinary young people in other times." Research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of her first two novels, the Newbery Honor book CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and the Newbery Medal-winner THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. She is also the author of MATILDA BONE, THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE, RODZINA, and most recently ALCHEMY AND MEGGY SWANN.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finding her place in the world August 24, 2000
By Krista
This slim novel begins with a scrawny young girl sleeping in a dung heap. The heroine, who is nameless as well as homeless, uses the dung for heat, a decision that Jane Sharp, the town's midwife, recognizes as a clever one. Jane hires the girl and names her Beetle, for dung beetle.
Beetle is a smart, compassionate girl, but a timid one, too. She allows Jane Sharp to boss her around and the local boys to tease her mercilessly.
Karen Cushman chose the England of the Middle Ages as a setting for the book, and has researched the subject exhaustively. We learn about village life, medicine, feudal structure, and the place of women in that society. Most enjoyable to follow is Beetle's progress from a scared, meek little girl to a self-assured young woman who has chosen her own name: Alyce.
While not romanticizing Alyce's situation, Cushman makes it clear how much more is available to her than to upper class women of her time. At the end of the book, Alyce chooses her own future from several options. She selects the life that will allow her the most independence. With a name and a career of her own choosing, Alyce has come far indeed from the dung heap.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kids, don't try this at home February 22, 2004
I was very taken with this story. This tale follows the trials and tribulations of a young girl (Beetle) in early medieval times. Finding herself apprenticed to the local midwife, the girl learns the tricks of the trade, even while gaining a little more wit and confidence in herself. The heroine is ignorant at the beginning and, quite realistically, does not suddenly end the book with a head full of knowledge and wisdom in everything she does. The arc of this book is especially remarkable. Following Beetle's successful delivering of a calf she also manages to deliver a baby to a poor woman that the official midwife left. Interestingly, this doesn't mean that Beetle is suddenly endowed with perfect midwifing abilities. Failing to deliver another child, she must rely on her mentor once again, crushing her burgeoning ego. The moral, that nothing is easy and that you must work at what you want, is a good one.
There were some slightly odd moments in the book. The midwife is described as being an envious/jealous type who cannot abide the notion of having a rival. Yet she is overheard later in the book, almost praising the girl's abilities. Still, this is a small quibble. I enjoyed reading about the girl's progress. It would be wonderfully paired with "Crispin: The Cross of Lead". Both stories follow ignorant orphans who learn a new profession and end their stories by going into the respective honest professions they desire. The time periods are not far off either. This book may or may not read aloud well. I don't know. There are some touchy moments (the near rape of Beetle by drunken boys, the midwife's affair with the baker, the well described births) that might make the squeamish (or their parents) uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I found this an important book and one worth remembering.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No surgarcoating here, folks September 24, 2005
Format:Audio Cassette
So often in modern fictional literature, the medieval age has been glamorized into a beautiful, romantic time. But this book is here to tell a grittier and more accurate story. Life was dirty, smelly, hard and short, especially if you weren't upper class. Those are the facts, there was happiness, sure, but it wasn't wrapped up in a tidy package.

Our heroine, (eventually self-named Alyce) is homeless and has only herself to depend on, until the midwife takes her in. It's not a gesture of kindess, but rather business sense. Jane the midwife can use Alyce for hard labor, and pay her with meager portions of food and a roof over her head. Alyce is a smart gal, even though she originally can't read or write, (very common if you were a peasant) and she learns the business, despite her 'boss' trying to keep her ignorant as to avoid eventual competion.

In the meantime, Alyce endears herself to the majority of the village, though it wasn't overnight, trust me. Her best friend is her cat purr, whom sticks with her through thick and thin. There is a village boy Jack who at first makes her life a living hell, but becomes a friend, and probably a potential love interest someday. (But that's just a guess, and the romantic in me talkng.)

I won't give any more away about the plot, and trust me, there's a lot more to it than that. It's a simple, human story, about a not so pretty once upon a time. I first read it when I was twelve, and it's been a favorite every since. It's about starting with nothing, and making a path for yourself. I wouldn't mind having half Alyce's pluck, myself.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, realistic medieval fiction December 26, 1999
While I believe that Karen Cushman's first book, Catherine, Called Birdy, is a better book, this novel has considerable merit. Cushman makes no effort to glamorize the Middle Ages, as many writers do. Her account is realistic and thought-provoking. In response to another viewer, who stated that this book should be avoided - "I think, in a time when our youth are struggling to find a healthy self-image and healthy relationships with others, this is a book that should be avoided" - I think this reviewer really doesn't see the larger picture. This is how life was, and I think teenagers do not want their literature to lie to them. Life isn't always pretty. Not all the people who lived in the Middle Ages had money, or even morals. That is true today as well. I think a young adult reader is capable of reaching a conclusion about a character's motives and morals without our help. More than anything else, this book will really teach readers about REAL history.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps a Youth Read
Is this book a youth read? I found it charming but very simplistic. I finished reading it in one sitting.,
Published 13 days ago by DIXIE STEPHEN
5.0 out of 5 stars good for maybe 10-12 year olds
can't beat this Newbery award winner, it is on the short side, good for maybe 10-12 year olds?
Published 19 days ago by scott
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I was doubtful about this book because I normally do not read these kinds of books. However this book somehow called to me. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Natasha N. Marlow
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 stars since in life nothing is ever truly perfect, is there
This may sound truly quirky however for a person my age, I really shouldn't have been drawn to such a book however I was. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
REALY not as good as I thought ,but OK
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars and she really loved this story
I gave this book to my granddaughter, and she really loved this story.
Published 1 month ago by mlc384
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
I loved this story. I was sad a lot because its really sad to see and read these kinda books but I loved the story! Read more
Published 1 month ago by coolgirl22
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A very good book, well written and informative.
Published 1 month ago by margaret prewett
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Interesting story with historical references
Published 2 months ago by Doris OConnor
1.0 out of 5 stars Do Not recommend to Middle School or Elementary age students
I assumed, wrongly, that because this book was a Newberry winner that it would be a good book for my daughter to read. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Anne
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