The Midwife's Apprentice
by Karen Cushman
September 30th 1996 (first published 1995) by HarperTrophy
Paperback, 128 pages
006440630X (isbn13: 9780064406307)
rating: 5 of 5 stars
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 midwife, discovers the girl, who becomes the midwife’s apprentice. The girl works long, and hard, beyond the point of survival to a place where she thinks and learns and ponders and chooses a name for herself. Her only friend is Purr, a cat she rescues from being drowned by the same boys who torment the girl apprentice. Eventually, she is challenged to deliver a baby in the midwife’s absence, and her future begins to both unfold and unravel.
Karen Cushman has graduate degrees in Human Behavior and Msum Studies. She has a long-standing interest in history. She says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, and presidents. I wanted to know what life was like for ordinary young people in other times."
This book showed off Cushman’s strengths to their full advantage. Her writing is sure-handed, with lots of showing and not too much telling. She fully brings the reader into a medieval village without overusing words and explanations. The story of The Midwife's Apprentice incorporates realism without fatalism, spirit without warrior-heroics, and a truly empowered character whom readers will love.