Friday, March 21, 2008

The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice, by Karen Cushman, is the most recent of several Newbery winners set in the Middle Ages that I've read (including Adam of the Road, Good Masters, Sweet Ladies!, and A Single Shard). It's interesting to see how this time period is portrayed so differently in these books. Maybe I should read Crispin and The Door in the Wall next.

Anyway, Cushman's 14th century England starts out as a cold and hungry place, filled with hard work. I think her introductory paragraph was incredible - it hooked me hard, and it definitely set the tone for the rest of the book:
When animal droppings and garbage and spoiled straw are piled up in a great heap, the rotting and moiling give forth heat. Usually no one gets close enough to notice because of the stench. But the girl noticed and, on that frosty night, burrowed deep into the warm, rotting muck, heedless of the smell. In any even, the dung heap probably smelled little worse than everything else in her life - the food scraps scavenged from kitchen yards, the stables and sties she slept in when she could, and her own unwashed, unnourished, unloved, and unlovely body (pg. 1).
I really enjoyed all of the details on midwifery in the past that Cushman wove into the story - the herbs, the superstitions, even some of the details of labor. I would guess all of this would appeal more to girls than boys. Similarly, the story of how Beetle becomes Alyce, and how Alyce grows into a valued member of the village, with more confidence, perseverance, and knowledge (as well as a cat and a comb), is a story that girls will probably appreciate.

4 comments:

Sherry said...

It's kind of funny to note how many of the Newbery books do have a medieval setting: Crispin, Midwife's Apprentice, Door in the Wall, Adam of the Road, The Whipping Boy, The Trumpeter of Krakow, A Single Shard (but not in Europe), and maybe THe Giver (?), sort of. Then, of course, there's the most recent winner: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Altogether, it seems that Newbery committees like the MIddle Ages almost as much as they like American historical fiction

Maw Books said...

I just barely bought this book secondhand a couple of days ago. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Joye said...

This book was great on audiobook. I too was hooked right away. My favorite part of the book was when Brat tricked the village. Strange tracks were seen around the village. These tracks were thought to be the devil walking around the town. The devil's footprints lead to several villagers' doors. All of these people were doing something wrong/evil and everyone found out about it because of the footprints. This book's end also teaches readers a valuable lesson about not giving up even if you fail. The mid-wife seems evil, but this lesson was important for her Apprentice to learn.

Anonymous said...

I started reading this book at about 3:30 yesterday and finished 2 hours later it was a great book. i liked the fact that she was homeless for her whole life and not just a lazy beggar. I recomehd this book