Book Review- The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman
Cushman, Karen.1995. The Midwife’s Apprenctice. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin and Company. ISBN 0395692296
B. Plot Summary
In medieval England, a girl with no home and no family struggles to get by day-to-day. The girl, known only as Brat, meets Jane the Midwife, and her life begins to change. Brat- who renames herself Alyce- learns the way of midwifery through ill-tempered Jane. Alyce gains knowledge, confidence, and, more importantly, begins to find a place for herself in the world.
C. Critical Analysis
The Midwife’s Apprentice shows the evolution of a girl, who rises from the dung heap (literally), to a confident young woman. It is a tale of finding oneself and overcoming adversity. Cushman uses the backdrop of medieval England to tell Alyce’s story. There is a sense of accuracy in the writing, from the language to the portrayal of a medieval village, which lends itself to the author’s research. The author’s note at the end of the book offers insight into midwifery past and present.
This is a short novel, only 144 pages, and Cushman does a great job of fitting in content. Her character development of Alyce is thorough and noteworthy. There are some scenes that may go over a young reader’s head- for instance, Jane Sharp’s affair with the baker. Nonetheless, Alyce is such a great protagonist that this is a story worth reading.
D. Review Excerpts and Awards
· Newbery Medal Winner 1996
· From Publisher’s Weekly, “…supremely colorful and pungent.”
E. Connections and Classroom Activities
· Led a discussion group with the following questions:
o 1. Alyce's name changed several times throughout the book. How did her life reflect her name? Does a name really matter?
o 2. People call Alyce stupid and witless. Do you agree? How did she show intelligence?
o 3. Many people shaped Alyce's life: Will, Jane Sharp, Edward, and Magister Reese. What did each person offer to Alyce?
o 4. We never find out if Alyce will succeed in becoming a midwife. Do you think she will?