The Midwife's Apprentice
From the author of Catherine, Called Birdy comes another spellbinding novel set in medieval England. The girl known only as Brat has no family, no home, and no future until she meets Jane the Midwife and becomes her apprentice. As she helps the sharp-tempered Jane deliver babies, Brat-who renames herself Alyce-gains knowledge, confidence, and the courage to want something from life: “A full belly, a contented heart, and a place in this world.” Medieval village life makes a lively backdrop for the funny, poignant story of how Alyce gets what she wants. A concluding note discusses midwifery past and present.
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