Sunday, November 06, 2011
Book Review: The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman (Clarion Books, 1995)
Brat is an orphaned girl with no name or family. When the village midwife discovers her sleeping in a dung heap to keep warm, she takes her on as an apprentice. The reader sees Brat grow in confidence and ability.
A 1996 Newbery winner, this historical fiction novel has a strong message: you can make your own way in this life, no matter what cards you are dealt. Alyce remembers no mother and no home; she is the target of village bullies and sleeps in a dung heap to keep warm, but she never believes in giving up. When the midwife is cruel with her words, she shakes it off and continues to learn by observation. She does not wait for someone to provide her with a kinder name than Brat or Beetle, the name given her by Jane the midwife; she decides she likes the name Alyce and tells people to call her by that name. She finds a way to even the score with the cruel villagers and earns the respect of one of the village bullies when she aids him in delivering a calf. This is medieval girl power.
In addition to winning the Newbery medal, The Midwife's Apprentice has also been designated as one of the American Library Association (ALA)'s Best of the Best Books for Young Adults and the New York Public Library's "One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing". Ms. Cushman also received Newbery Honors for her book Catherine , Called Birdy.
The author's website offers a full bibliography of Ms. Cushman's books, along with an author biography and "odd facts". An FAQ is available for popular questions, and there is a link to contact the author for appearances. There are a wealth of resources available online for discussing and teaching this book, including a robust guide at eNotes.