The Midwife's Apprentice
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The Midwife's Apprentice

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  27,901 ratings  ·  1,092 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 ti...more
Kindle Edition, 133 pages
Published (first published January 1st 1995)
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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...more
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...more
Oct 17, 2007 Chicklet rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Connie  Kuntz
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-...more
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...more
Bobby Simic
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...more
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...more
Anne Osterlund
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...more
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.
If there was ever a book that served as the picture in Webster's Dictionary alongside "Newbery Medal", this is it. Well, yes, there are lots more Newbery books that are supremely superior to this one, but all my favorites don't tend to be typical Newbery fodder. This one is (probably not a top 10 favorite, probably in the mid to upper 20s), and I'm not saying that's a bad thing. The writing was simple yet adequate, the quiet transformation wasn't too drastic and implausible, and the details on M...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
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
Tracey Demario
This 1996 winner of the Newbery Medal is an historical fiction book intended for children in elementary to middle school (P, I). Set in Medieval England, the story describes the coming of age of a young peasant girl called Brat. Wandering from village to village, with no family, she is taken on as an apprentice by the local midwife. Each chapter describes a small, yet not unimportant, event or time period in Brat’s life. With each event, Brat learns about kindness, bravery, identity, pride, fail...more
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...more
Alex Baugh
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...more
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...more
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
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
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
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
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...more
Rebecca Ann
This was an easy read, but other than that I didn't find much worthwhile in it. Alyce was not a particularly strong protagonist and sees transformation/development only at the very end. This book was lacking transitions between chapters and felt disjointed. I couldn't help but be appalled by the acceptance of weird voodoo as medicine, even though it was accepted at the time. I also found the topic of child-birth a bit strange for this age group because nothing can really be described in detail w...more
Put this one in the "spunky girl/not a princess" category.

I read this really fast, in a couple of hours. Well, it's a kid's book after all.

It's about a girl, an orphan, who has nothing and nobody, who makes a life for herself. What I most appreciated about this book is that bad stuff happens, not everyone is kind, it's more like real life than a lot of fakey sweet books intended for kids that I've read in the past. Life is hard for this girl, but she is clever (even though she doesn't know that...more
Mary JL
Apr 27, 2009 Mary JL rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of strong heroines
Recommended to Mary JL by: Knew author from first book
This is another book by Karen Cushman, who wrote "Catherine, Called Birdy".

Like Cushman's first book, this is set in medeival times with the heroine a young girl. In this case, the girl is found sleeping in a dung heap by a midwife and taken on as an apprentice.

It is a short book but very well written and packs a lot of story in its pages. ONe thing--desriptions of childbirth are included--so I would recommend this book for older teens not younger children.

The story of how Brat discovers herself...more
This is about a homeless girl and a cat during the middle ages.
She works for any one who will give her shelter. She ends up with a
bad tempered midwife. The author wants to show children what it was like
for children in the middle ages. The adults in this book are calling the
child bad names and there is also some cruelty in this book. Even though it is
simply written I think it should be read with an adult to explain to the child
that we no longer treat anyone this way.
As for me, I prefer Catherine...more
Reviewed for SJSU LIBR 264 Summer 2014

Review: The Midwife's Apprentice tells the life story of a young orphan girl named Brat, so called because she knows no name other than the curses that townsfolk shout at her. One day Brat is taken in by a midwife. Although the midwife is harsh and demanding, she provides Brat with a home, food, and a skill. As Brat learns more about her trade, and herself, she grows to want more from life -a name, friends, and a real place in society. Although the story is...more
Kathleen Locher
I love the protagonist of The Midwife’s Apprentice. She starts as dung-“Beetle”, then is known as Brat, then takes on the name of a girl who can read, Alyce. Jane Sharp, the village midwife, discovers the girl, who becomes the midwife’s apprentice. The girl learns about the world, the people it inhabits, and the strength within herself while apprenticing with the midwife. Throughout the book, Alyce is in search of her identity. After being mistaken for a girl named Alyce, she looks at herself in...more
Ending is limp and leaves you hanging. Book is small and appears to be written for middle elementary aged readers 8 - 12 but has some sexual behaviors or insinuations that, while perhaps reality for the time period, are I hope still innapropriate reading for children of this age. I would say that perhaps the target age should be more like 14 and up.

I agree with the other reviews that this book does make it more clear to the young reader what the realities of daily life in the time were. Often fa...more
This is a nice book. In it, a young nameless and homeless girl finds her way in the villages of fourteenth century England with spunk and sorrow and self-doubt. She wins her life struggle in the sense that she finds her self-worth in the context of her narrow world.

The book does the wonderful job of helping young people see that they are good and worthy in themselves by looking through the eyes of the characters in a book. The book has grim parts, but they are not grim in a detailed adult way or...more
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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
More about Karen Cushman...
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“Just because you don't know everything don't mean you know nothing.” 32 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.” 11 likes
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