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The Midwife’s Apprentice
by Karen Cushman
The 1996 Newbery Medal book is another well-researched, warm-hearted historical novel about a girl in Medieval England. This girl, like the title character in Matilda Bone, needs to find out who she is and where she belongs in the world. Only more so.
To begin with, she has no name and no memory of a family. She comes to the village knowing no name but Brat, and soon becomes Beetle because she is found sleeping in a dung heap for warmth. But the sharp-faced, cold-hearted midwife named Jane takes her in, feeds her, and gives her a place to sleep in return for a life of drudgery. Slowly the girl learns to stand up for herself against the bullying children of the village, to care for women and other creatures in the throes of childbirth, and to love at least one creature — the orange cat who follows her everywhere. Slowly, as well, she learns the rudiments of being a midwife — though certainly not because her mistress wants her to learn!
Soon, Beetle takes the name Alyce. But just as Alyce is beginning to show up her midwifing mistress, she suffers a cruel failure… she runs away and finds herself at square one again… and she learns a few more things, including the one thing she needs to find her place in the world.
Alyce is a heroine with spirit in a time of superstition, bad sanitation, widespread poverty, and unexpected delights. I hope you enjoy her colorful adventures, as I did, and finish the book wanting more.