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The Midwife's Apprentice

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  33,278 Ratings  ·  1,374 Reviews
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 tim ...more
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Published August 22nd 2006 by Listening Library (Audio) (first published January 1st 1995)
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Aug 07, 2007 Jennie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The midwife finds Brat asleep in a dung heap. She says she will work for food, so the midwife takes her on, having her do the housekeeping and herb-gathering and renames Brat, Beetle. Beetle is not allowed to assist when the midwife delivers a baby, but she watches from the windows and learns the midwife’s skills.

One day, she gets to go to the fair to buy things for the midwife. There, she decides that she needs a real name, a proper name, and starts calling herself Alyce. One day, in the middle
Feb 23, 2009 Aerin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-grade, newbery
I read Catherine Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor Book, about ten years ago, and while it was interesting it wasn’t quite captivating enough for me to want to read anything else by Karen Cushman. Still, when The Midwife’s Apprentice showed up on Paperback Swap, I figured I’d give it a try.

A Newbery Medal book, The Midwife’s Apprentice tells the story of a girl with no home, no parents, and no name. One frosty night, she find warmth sleeping in a dung heap. The next morning, Jane Sharp, the village
I really liked Karen Cushman's books as a kid, and I think one of the big reasons for this (aside from the fact that, although two of her books take place in the Middle Ages, neither protagonist is a princess! *gasp*), is that she never sugar-coats the history. Take The Midwife's Apprentice, which is about a homeless, nameless orphan girl who gets a job as...guess. No, go on, guess.
Delivering babies in the Middle Ages was not only life-threatening and painful, it was gross. I remember reading th
Oct 17, 2007 Chicklet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in early birthing practices
Shelves: historical
A lot of historical research must have gone into this book, very well done. I'm amazed at both how much and how little people of this era new about pregnancy and childbirth.
While the cover of this book seems to be geared toward children, I would NOT hand this over to a child who does not already know about childbirth and pregnancy in detail. Even then, it would be wise to go over the book when they're done so they don't end up with bizarre and inaccurate ideas about having babies. Cushman is a
Connie  Kuntz
Aug 04, 2013 Connie Kuntz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There will always be a part of me that wishes I was a midwife, so I totally loved this book. The kids did, too, although I am not sure any one of them aspires to midwifery.

The midwife herself is a bully, but Karen Cushman provided just enough detail about her so that the kids and I could not completely despise her. For example, the midwife herself gave birth numerous times, but her babies all died. The midwife also, in spite of being coarse and arrogant, is wise, and she mentions as-a-matter-of-
Oct 21, 2010 Emilianna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are few books that I come across, pick up, and just check out of the library on mere whim. There are even fewer books that I start over the minute I finish them.
The Midwife's Apprentice is one of these precious few.
It has no plot twits, mysteries, sexy vampires, gothic mansions, or pomp or circumstance. Its just a simple coming of age story about one of the sweetest, quietest, and purest characters to ever touch your soul.
Its a short simple story, but its simplicity makes it so strong an
Bobby Simic
Jul 24, 2008 Bobby Simic rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kidsstuff, historical
Orphaned since as long as she can remember, Beetle becomes employed by the cold village midwife. And while her payment is meager, Beetle eventually gains confidence in herself and her abilities through her work.
While it uses the language of the time, the book is surprisingly accessible -- no doubt helped by its short length (my edition was barely over 100 pages). Despite being from a different era, Beetle's plight still can be relatable; she's someone who has believed all the n
Oct 29, 2015 Damian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have given this book a 3.5 star rating if there was one. I felt this had a slow plot to it, but I found that I liked it more as I read on. However, just when I really started to like it, it ended. The ending was not bad, but it definitely just left you there like, "What." Since it was only 117 pages or so, I think this is why. Otherwise it was not bad.
Kavita Ramesh
Nov 07, 2015 Kavita Ramesh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful story.
Sep 25, 2016 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent historical fiction for preteens! Cushman portrays the life of a homeless orphan in medieval England -- a girl so bereft of all background that she doesn't even have a name -- and how she slowly carves out an identity for herself by keeping her eyes and ears open, and by working hard at challenging assignments.
Suzanne Moore
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Madison H.
This was a great, quick historical read. It was packed with so much information and details. It was very real and gritty, it wasn't the glamorous side of the middle ages that we usually read about, the stories about the kings and queens and the princesses and princes. This was about the peasants and their lives.

The characters were good. Alys grows a lot through out the book. I love how her name changes with each stage of her life. I thought that was a really nice touch. Though the book doesn't f
Jul 16, 2012 jess rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: zines, yaf, 2012
I picked this up because I was fascinated to read about how midwifery was handled for a juvenile audience. You know how people freak out about kids knowing where babies come from? It was interesting from that perspective, but I ended up really enjoying the book. The protagonist is a homeless, nameless ragamuffin who gets taken in by a village midwife and learns a bit about the work of bringing babies into the world. The confidence that comes from having a place in the world starts to change the ...more
Anne Osterlund
Aug 09, 2013 Anne Osterlund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beetle is a young girl who has nothing. Except the smarts to hide in a dung pile in order to stay warm. And the wherewithal to accept whatever chores, abuse, and food are thrown her way by the village midwife.

But then Beetle begins to learn.

About Cat. Whom she rescues from a rather ill fate.
And Will. Whom she rescues from the same fate.
And soap.

Ah, the world is full of miracles. Even for a midwife’s apprentice.

A quick feeling story about a girl with everything stacked against her. I zipped throu
Mar 19, 2015 RenéeR rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is alright to read. So the book is about a girl that is a midwife apprentice and she doesn’t know her name and she tries to figure it out with a loveable cat she meets. The best part of the book so far is when she figures out her name. I would say that it’s for 12 and up for the age.
lucy by the sea
This short fairy tale like story is just the right mix of bitter and sweet. I read it slowly because it is a short book and I didn't want it to end.
Apr 15, 2015 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Boring and repetitive.
Alex Baugh
Mar 26, 2013 Alex Baugh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: randomly-reading
The middle ages has always held a great deal of appeal for me, so I decided to revisit an old favorite. The Midwife's Apprentice tells the story of a young girl who has no name, no family, no home and not future. All she knows is getting through today. She is called Dung Beetle by the more fortunate villagers because she often sleeps in a dung heap to keep warm, and eats of of a garbage heap that never satisfies her gnawing hunger.

How Beetle ended up like this is unknown to her, she has not memo
Jan 26, 2010 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Midwife's Apprentice is a tale of a young girl who gains jobs,skills,and friends all because of one person, Jane the midwife. Jane is in the story as the mother figure or mentor who teaches Alyce not to give up, keep trying, and how to be like a real girl. This book is not really the type of book I would like to read in the future. Its plot development is poor/boring as it describes hardships living from place to place. But I liked the author's character development much more and is in my o ...more
Dec 03, 2015 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basic Plot: A homeless girl in medieval England finds her place in the world and her purpose.

The situation of the poor girl at the beginning of the book about tore my heart out. Homeless children are a particularly hard thing for a parent to bear. This story was simple, but the meaning of it is what is really important. Alyce (the name she chooses for herself, as she had none at the beginning) really has nothing, not even pride, at the beginning of the story. She is abused by everyone around her
Blake Medford
I think that The Midwife’s Apprentice would be a book that would be difficult to teach in a middle grades setting. The book covers how children are born and has some rather crude scenes. That being said I think to teach the book would depend on the area. An area that I wouldn’t touch this book would be here in Georgia. In the middle of the Bible belt does not seem like the place to study a book that involves a woman yelling into another women’s vagina at a baby to come out. Considering how most ...more
Nov 30, 2010 Kathie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brat, Beetle, whatever her name, a girl who is orphaned, dirty, unloved and uncared for finds herself in the employ of the town's midwife. Suddenly with a roof over her head, food in her belly and a friend in the form of a cat, the 12 year old names herself Alyce and learns to deliver babies. She fails, runs away only to return and try again.

Cushman is a master storyteller and loses nothing in this 13th century tale of a young girl about 12 years old who is dirty, unloved, hungry and does not kn
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Mar 12, 2016 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery
The story opens with a young girl with no name, no family, burying herself in a dung heap for warmth. The girl is taken in by a midwife, Jane, who dubs her Beetle for her choice of sleeping quarters. Jane’s decision to take Beetle in is not due to benevolence, however, but greed; Jane sees that Beetle is a hard worker who will lighten her load. Jane gives Beetle all the difficult work of her profession, but she is careful to keep Beetle away from observing Jane during delivery, fearing Beetle wi ...more
Apr 18, 2015 Yuyu_reads rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
I was going to give 3,5 stars, but the ending changed my mind. The story itself is very realistic and somewhat still predictable except for the ending.

Jane, the midwife, finds a little girl in a pile of fecal matter. The girl has no family, no friends and she doesn't know her own name. She convinces Jane to let her stay in exchange for her labor. She also befriends a cat. Beetle, this is how the villagers call her, is hard-working and very grateful for all she has. Although the villagers treat
Dec 27, 2012 Jesse rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery
How do you know when a piece of historical fiction is written really, really well? When the thought of living during that time makes you run for the shower! Karen Cushman has a gift for portraying time periods accurately, and the setting for The Midwife's Apprentice is no exception. Beetle, our protagonist, is first described as sleeping in a dung pile, but is soon discovered by Jane, the curmudgeonly midwife who sets her to work as her apprentice. As Beetle becomes more knowlegeable about her t ...more
Nov 24, 2015 Pam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow, this book was amazing. I wasn't sure what to expect since it wasn't written for adults (I thought), but the vibrant writing and descriptions made it awesome. Also, the author pulled no punches in terms of making the apprentice's experiences glossy and neat - no they were real and sometimes a little scary. I would love to read another book by this author. I especially enjoyed the extra bit at the end where Cushman discusses the herbs used in medieval midwifery and how they were sometimes eff ...more
May 31, 2011 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great little book about a girl who literally comes from a dung heap and finds her place in the world as a midwife's apprentice. This one is now on the summer book shelf for my 10 year old daughter. Other reviews have stated that it has graphic birth imagery that makes it unsuitable for younger readers. I can only imagine those comments came from people who have never actually witnessed birth of any kind. My daughter has been exposed to more graphic images in her real life while watching a robin' ...more
This is a realistic medieval fiction for young readers 12+ and a well-deserved Newberry Medal winner.

This tale follows the trials and tribulations of a young girl (Beetle, named because as homeless she uses the dung for heat.) in early medieval times. She finds herself apprenticed to the local midwife, knowledge and wisdom alone, and finds her place in the world.

Cushman has researched the subject well. We learn about village life, medicine, feudal structure, and the place of women in that socie
Nov 05, 2015 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this Newberry winner for a monthly themed book club. This month the theme is middle grade. I wanted to read something older to be more well rounded. I had this marked as read, but after reading it, I have no recollection of this story and not sure why I marked it so.

I enjoyed this quick historical read. It is a nice look at women's issues in the Middle Ages, something that is rarely covered in children's fiction. I liked Alyce and felt she was very well drawn. Her desires are very simple
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Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, Illinois.

She entered Stanford University on a scholarship in 1959 and graduated with degrees in Greek and English. She later earned master’s degrees in human behavior and museum studies.

For eleven years she was an adjunct professor in the Museum Studies Department at John F. Kennedy University before resigning in 1996 to write full-time.

She lives on Vashon Isla
More about Karen Cushman...

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“Just because you don't know everything don't mean you know nothing.” 38 likes
“. . . she dreamed of nothing, for she hoped for nothing and expected nothing. It was as cold and dark inside her as out in the frosty night.” 12 likes
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