The Midwife's Apprentice, awarded in 1996, and written by Karen Cushman was a very quick read. Set in the 14th century, the author tells the story of a yound waif who is put to work by the village midwife. Having no family, no identity, and nowhere else to go, young Beetle (as she was called by Jane the midwife) accepted her new station in life. Unfortunately, Jane had no real intention of allowing Beetle to be her apprentice; rather she should function as a servant who was ordered to complete many tasks to maintain her new position. In the end, Beetle surprises everyone with her abilities.
I enjoyed the historical information in the book, from village life to medicinal treatments. As an animal lover, I did find Beetle's relationship with her cat and other animals to be endearing. I did not particularly like the way the book dealt with Beetle's thoughts and decisions. There were moments where I wanted the young girl to stand up to her circumstances. And while she ultimately did find redemption and self-confidence, I felt it took too much anguish and delay.
We have this book graded for Gr. 5-8, and I think the topics would be appropriate for this age range. I also feel that many children would enjoy reading this book and perhaps find hope for their own lives. Hope against oppression, ridicule, and aloneness.