Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Midwife's Apprentice

The Midwife's Apprentice

Karen Cushman
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 1995   ISBN: 978-0547722177

When we first meet her the girl is a cowed, filthy little person who is taking refuge in a dung heap. Homeless, unwanted, and unloved, she wanders from village to village, often persecuted by the village boys, frequently hungry, and always aware that she is a nothing and a nobody.

By chance the girl asks the village midwife for a piece of bread which the midwife, Jane Sharp, agrees to give her if the girl will do some work for her. The arrangement becomes a permanent one. The girl - whom everyone calls Beetle or Dung Beetle - cleans, cooks, collects and prepares herbs, and works hard for the midwife. In exchange she has shelter and adequate, though never quite enough, food.

Over time Beetle gains confidence. She discovers that under all the dirt she is not an unattractive girl, and that she has curly hair and pretty dark eyes. She decides that she will no longer be called Beetle and names herself Alice. Quite by chance Alice is the only person available when one of the village women needs helps delivering her baby, and though the ordeal is a long and hard one, in the end Alice brings a healthy baby girl into the world. Alice is now ready to think that she can do anything. Perhaps she too can be a respected and valued midwife one day. Then alas, Alice has a setback and because of this event Alice begins to think once again that she is a nobody who has nothing to offer. She has yet to learn that life is full of setbacks and that her only hope is to keep on trying no matter how many times she is challenged.

In this powerful, often touching, sometimes humorous book, Karen Cushman once again takes her reader back in time. In this instance we visit to a medieval English village where life is hard, and where a homeless orphaned child has a very hard time finding a place she can call home. Alice has to earn the respect of those around her, and she also has to figure out what she wants to do with her life. Is she Alice, the Midwife’s apprentice, or is she Beetle, a lonely little waif who takes what life throws at her?

css.php