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The Midwife's Apprentice

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  41,656 ratings  ·  1,974 reviews
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 somethin ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 16th 1996 by HarperTrophy (first published January 1st 1995)
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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  41,656 ratings  ·  1,974 reviews

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Andrea Cox
I thought this children's book looked interesting, but it turned out to be crude, abrasive, and creepy. I was especially disappointed in the content, which seemed much too advanced for its intended audience.

This book was found in my library's children's section, which is specifically meant for children under thirteen years of age.

Content: devils and demons, witches, evil, transgenderism, marital affair, a couple of teenagers caught having sex, magic, superstition, child abuse, verbal abuse, prof
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: newbery, middle-grade
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
Aug 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Connie Kuntz
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 17, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Oct 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 09, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021, owned-newbery
Another just ok Newbery winner.
Bobby Simic
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
I don't know how I remained ignorant of this book's existence for so long—I read Catherine, Called Birdy growing up and felt like I encountered it fairly regularly in bookstores/libraries/other people's reading histories. When I did finally learn of The Midwife's Apprentice through GR, I was shocked that it actually has more ratings than CCB, and won the Newbury (which CCB was "only" nominated for). It kind of feels like I grew up a fan of Jamie Lynn Spears, thinking she was a big star, only to ...more
Linda Lpp
Jan 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Saw this book listed on the audio list for the public library. Not necessarily a child's book, but closer to a young teen. Or for an old lady like me!
Enjoying it as MY cat is curled up beside me. Interesting perspective of a homeless, poor girl who has never known her roots. She usually goes hungry. Sleeps burrowed into the warmth of a dung heap (if lucky to find one). At this point in the story (Chapter 7) her struggles are continuing, but she has been given some hope-chores for the mid-wife in
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
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Wonderful juvenile/middle grade historical fiction set during the Middle Ages in Britain. Beetle/Alice is an orphan who lives an unprotected life sleeping in dung heaps for warmth and scavaging for food.
Everyone in the village mistreats her and discounts her worth. Beetle/Alice is picked up by the midwife Jane Sharpe who uses her as a servant and daily berates and humiliates her. This coming-of-age story depicts Alice's growth from a self-loathing rag-a-muffin to a person with self-worth, determ
Rheama Heather
Mar 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-read-fiction
Not my usual type of reading material. I found this title on a list of good historical fiction novels. It's a short Medieval tale of an orphan girl finding her place in the village.

Don't let the cute cover fool you. It's a heart wrenching story. But it's told in a pure way, sparking with hope. Books like this make me long to be a librarian so I can match this fictional heroine with a living adolescent who needs her example.

I can imagine sitting on a rug next to a warm fire on a winter night whil
Oct 29, 2015 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Now I'm going down the Karen Cushman rabbit hole.
I am 52 years old and just about all I can read anymore are middle school books.
Lack of time, attention span, or regressive disorder?

You decide.

This book was good and just what I needed. I love Alyce.
Blake Medford
Dec 11, 2012 rated it liked it
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
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
This was such a pleasant surprise! Cushman's writing reminded me of Tracy Chevalier's writing. (Girl with a Pearl Earring is one of the very best historical fiction books I've read!) She was able to make me feel as if I was right there with Beetle/Alyce. I could glean the details of life during this time period through the character's actions. So easy and yet revealing! And, I particularly could relate to Beetle/Alyce since he companion was a an orange cat (appropriately named Purr!), much like ...more
Reader of Books
Are you kidding me? She saved a boys life and he still turns around and continues being a cruel bully? Yes she's a good person and all but most of the people I couldn't stand in this book and dnf'd at 45 pages. 2.5 ⭐.

TW: child abuse, light swearing, bullying, starvation, and abuse of a cat.
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
Suzanne Moore
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 28, 2012 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
Beautifully told historical fiction for Middle School students. Set in Medieval England, it tells the story of a young girl searching for identity. The story highlights how identity is shaped both by our own understanding of self and the outer world's perception of what we are, how it shifts and grows along with our experiences. The main character's name is a wonderful symbol for this development. First, the young orphan is only known as Brat, later she is called Beetle. In the end, she gives he ...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
Anne Osterlund
Aug 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Cynthia Egbert
This is not a book for young children, there are some serious issues and situations that this young lady experiences but I do believe that it showcases medieval village life as well as a short novel can. I was sad for this one to end, I really wanted to continue to follow Alyce's life now that she has finally found herself and the confidence she needs to really carve out a life for herself as a true midwife. If your child reads this, you will want to become familiar with it yourself as there are ...more
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
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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

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