Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Midwife's Apprentice

Cushman, Karen. 1995. The Midwife's Apprentice. New York: Clarion. ISBN 0-395-69229-6

The Midwife's Apprentice is the story of Brat later renamed Beetle, an orphan who is selected to be the apprentice of the village midwife Jane.  Brat is unwanted and must endure years of ridicule and teasing.  Jane is a difficult task master and does not want Beetle to be overly successful.  However, thanks to an accident Beetle is allowed to travel to get supplies and is mistaken for a girl named Alyce.  Beetle takes on the name Alyce and gain in confidence after the successful delivery of a baby. 
The Midwife's Apprentice tackles subject matters which are seldom spoken of in children's literature.  The first is childbirth and the dangers that it represented in 14th century England.  The second is unwanted and neglected children.  Cushman integrates real herbal remedies and folklore into The Midwife's Apprentice and by doing so paints a picture of the sad reality of life for women in medieval England.  Alyce's character and intelligence is slowly developed throughout the novel.  Elements of feminism run throughout the novel but does not intrude into the setting in a way that detracts from the flow of the story.  
Historical elements of the text are accurate and lend to the feel of the novel.  Small items such as clothing and the comb which Alyce is given by a peddler provide a realistic feel to the book's location and time.  Ms. Cushman does a good job of providing specific details of the craft of midwifery.  This is especially true of the herbs and natural remedies which were widely used during the time in which the novel is set. 
Newbery Medal
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Notable Book for Children
Booklist Editors' Choice
Horn Book Fanfare Selection
School Library Journal, Best Books of the Year
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Hungry Mind Review Book of Distinction
Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts
Not Just For Children Anymore! Selection (CBC)
Parenting Magazine Reading Magic Awards
Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers Choice Award Short List
Parents' Choice Gold Award
American Bookseller "Pick of the Lists"
New York Public Library, 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
ABC Children's Booksellers Choice Award
NYPL Books for the Teen Age List

Introduce students to more daily life activities from the 14th century.  Include items about clothing, culture and food.  Have student make butter and bread which were staples in medieval life.

Examine the life of women in medieval times. 

Read more books by Karen Cushman -
*Catherine, Called Birdy
*The Ballad of Lucy Whipple
*Matilda Bone
*Alchemy and Meggy Swan


Explore character development.  Each of the character's in The Midwife's Apprentice is different and well developed.  Have students select a character and describe their traits.  Each student can select objects which represent the character and explain why the object is relevant.

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